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How chemo makes cancer come back

Reading time: 6 minutes

New research has demonstrated how chemotherapy wakes up dormant cancer cells and helps spread the disease to healthy cells and organs—encouraging the disease to come back stronger and less treatable

News travels slowly in the world of cancer therapy. Twelve years have passed since researchers demonstrated that chemotherapy promotes cancer growth and spread by invading healthy cells that surround the cancerous area. Five years later, other researchers showed that the drugs repair a mechanism that allows cancer cells to come back stronger.

Oncologists have seen the same effects of chemotherapy every day in the clinic, but they still administer it, even to apparently healthy patients. Women with breast cancer who have been given the all-clear after surgery—which is now the preferred first-line therapy for cancer that hasn’t spread (metastasized)—are often given a course of chemotherapy.

Breast cancers that have anything greater than a 10 percent risk of recurring or spreading within five years are routinely treated with chemotherapy after surgery. It’s known as adjuvant therapy, and it’s also used if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Depending on the type of cancer, the rate of recurrence can range from 6 percent to 23 percent within five years of initial treatment. This number rises to a chilling 30 percent beyond the first five years.

Oncologists believe they can reduce this risk by up to 30 percent if they use adjuvant chemotherapy. A woman with a cancer that has a 20 percent chance of recurring in 10 years can reduce the risk to 14 percent if she has chemotherapy, they say.

Leading centers such as the Mayo Clinic still extol the virtues of chemotherapy. It states on its website that chemo “increases the chance of a cure, decreases the risk of the cancer returning, alleviates symptoms from the cancer or helps people with cancer live longer with a better quality of life.”

Chemo is worthless

But cancer researchers don’t agree. A team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, discovered that chemotherapy encourages the production of the protein WNT16B, which promotes cancer cell survival and growth. It interacts with other cancer cells, causing them to grow and invade healthy cells, and makes the cancer resistant to later treatment.

The implication? Chemotherapy is completely worthless—a damning indictment that was made in 2012 and has been ignored ever since.1

Five years later, other researchers arrived at a similar conclusion. Yes, chemotherapy can achieve early wins against cancer, but the drugs also trigger a process that allows it to return and metastasize into other organs.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York tested the effects of chemotherapy on breast cancer cells, but they fear they would see a similar response in all cancer cells. They noted that the drugs trigger a repair mechanism that enables cancer cells to return stronger. Chemotherapy also helps create gateways, known as tumor microenvironments of metastasis (TMEM), that allow breast cancer cells to spread into other organs, which is often lethal.

Although chemotherapy can initially reduce tumor size, it increases TMEM activity as well, making the cancer’s spread much more likely, the researchers found when they looked at cell samples from 20 breast cancer patients. They found a similar pattern in mice.2

Now we see it

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, have confirmed in new research that, far from reducing rates of recurrence, adjuvant chemotherapy is a major reason breast cancer comes back. Taxanes, a type of chemotherapy drug that is widely used for cancer treatment, “wake up” dormant cells that were previously cancerous and injure healthy cells that surround the cancerous area.3

They tested the impact of taxanes on samples of healthy and cancerous stromal cells, which are found in connective tissue, and then on mice. Even at low doses, docetaxel, a taxane, injured healthy stromal cells but didn’t kill cancerous cells; worse, dormant cells became cancerous again—a phenomenon the researchers described as “escaping from dormancy”—and started dividing.

It was a domino effect. The healthy cells that were injured by the drug released two cell-signaling molecules that increase inflammation—G-CSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor), which triggers bone marrow to release stem cells, and IL-6 (interleukin-6), a molecule with pro- and anti-inflammatory qualities. These stimulated the surrounding dormant cells back into a cancerous state.

Both molecules are known to help cancer spread, and just one dose of chemotherapy was activating them. The dormant cancer cells were being awakened, and they came back stronger.

They were reprogrammed to become more resistant to chemotherapy, the researchers observed, and in the mice, the immune system response was flipped from fighting cancer to promoting its growth.

Is it worth it?

Add to that the life-debilitating effects of chemotherapy—which can include heart problems, neuropathy and leukemia as well as a recurrence of the original cancer—and we need to ask whether it is ever needed for breast cancers that haven’t spread and whether the threshold-to-treat of a 10 percent recurrence risk is too low.

It all depends on the type of cancer, say oncologists at Yale School of Medicine. Around 75 percent of women with breast cancer have the HR-positive subtype, meaning the cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes and chemotherapy isn’t needed to treat it, says Dr Eric Winer, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of the Smilow Cancer Network.

Even with aggressive, fast-growing HER2 cancers—which make up 15–20 percent of breast cancer cases—very limited courses of chemotherapy can be just as effective as more intense treatment, he says.4

Instead, a monoclonal antibody, a type of protein made in the laboratory, is a much more successful first-line therapy than chemotherapy. In one study, researchers treated 406 patients with HER2 cancer whose tumors were up to 3 cm (1.2 in.) in length with chemotherapy for three months before switching to the monoclonal antibody Herceptin for nine months.

Three years later, 98.7 percent of the women were still alive and free of invasive disease.5

“Suddenly, women with relatively advanced forms of breast cancer—with lymph node involvement—were doing exceptionally well,” said Dr Winder. “So, then we asked ourselves, ‘If you have a very small HER2-positive breast cancer and no lymph node involvement, do you still need such complex chemotherapy treatments?’”

The non-chemo approach to cancer

The late Dr Patrick Kingsley, a WDDTY columnist, successfully treated more than 5,000 cancer patients, many at stage 4. Here is a summary of his anti-cancer protocol.

Step 1: Change your diet

Avoid

All animal milks and animal-milk products (oat, rice and cashew-nut milks are excellent alternatives).

All forms of added sugar, but natural sugar in fruit is okay.

Red meats, refined carbohydrates, tea and coffee and their decaffeinated forms, all food additives and anything in a packet or a tin.

All ‘yeasty’ foods like store-bought bread, mushrooms and vinegars.

Alcohol.

Include

Use olive and coconut oils.

Quality water (filtered and bottled in glass), herbal teas and decaffeinated green tea.

Fresh fruit juices

Turmeric as often as you can

Step 2: Take supplements

The basics

Essential fatty acids (EFAs). Suggested dosage: Eskimo-3 fish oil, 5 mL twice a day with food

Pancreatic enzymes. Take up to 12 capsules of Wobenzym N, or any other pancreatic enzyme preparation for cancer, three times a day well away from meals

Vitamin D. Suggested dosage: at least 4,000 IU/day vitamin D orally, especially in the winter; also eat oily fish, which provides vitamins A and D as well as omega-3s

Vitamin C. Suggested dosage: at least 10 g/day orally, preferably in at least four divided doses

Other antioxidants

Alpha-lipoic acid. Suggested dosage: 100 mg/day of ALA with each dose of vitamin C, as it helps to keep C levels as high as possible

Vitamin E. Suggested dosage: 800 IU/day

Vitamin A. Suggested dosage: 4,500 IU/day

Selenium. Suggested dosage: at least 200 mcg/day

Iron. Suggested dosage: start with 5 mg/day

Magnesium or magnesium lotion. Suggested dosage: 400 mg/day orally

Coenzyme Q10. Suggested dosage: aim for 400 mg/day

Step 3: Have a clear-out

Take hot baths with ordinary Epsom salts or hydrogen peroxide. Start low, and don’t go any higher than 6 tablespoons of 6 percent (20 volume) H2O2 in a full bath.

Enjoy foot baths with a tablespoon each of Epsom salts, sea salt and olive oil.

Engage in regular far infrared (FIR) sauna sessions.

Try LL’s Magnetic Clay, a special bentonite volcanic clay that, when used as a bath, draws toxic metals and chemicals out through the skin.

Coffee enemas often clear the pain of cancer and nearly always make you feel far less ill after chemo-/radiotherapy without diminishing the effects of such treatment.

Colonic irrigation improves nutrient absorption, activates the immune system and removes toxins.

Liver herbs like silymarin cleanse and stimulate the liver.

Step 4: Boost your immune system

If the natural killer cells in your immune system are poorly functioning, try BioBran MGN-3 supplements, one tablet three times a day for the first four weeks, then one a day to maintain a stimulus to these essential cancer-fighting cells.

If other aspects of your immune system are poor, such as interleukin-12 and/or lymphotoxin (formerly tumor necrosis factor), Kingsley recommends Imm-Kine, one capsule three times a day, until a blood test, perhaps in three months’ time, shows adequate or preferably higher-than-normal levels.

References
 
  1. Nat Med, 2012; 18(9): 1359–68
  2. Sci Transl Med, 2017; 9(397): eaan0026
  3. PLoS Biology, 2023; 21(9): e3002275
  4. Kathy Katella, “Do You Still Need Chemo for Breast Cancer?,” Oct 4, 2022, yalemedicine.org
  5. New Eng J Med, 2015; 372(2): 134–41
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