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Bowel cancer: alternative treatments

MagazineAugust 1999 (Vol. 10 Issue 5)Bowel cancer: alternative treatments

Vitamin CLinus Pauling, the late celebrated champion of vitamin C, believed that it not only protected against cancer but could also be used to cure the disease, or at least substantially prolong life

Vitamin CLinus Pauling, the late celebrated champion of vitamin C, believed that it not only protected against cancer but could also be used to cure the disease, or at least substantially prolong life.

In a large scale trial with Ewen Cameron, a Scottish doctor, Pauling found that 10 g of vitamin C daily reduced death rates in a wide variety of advanced cancers, including "untreatable" colorectal cancer. In another study, they reported that all the untreated patients had died within 200 days, whereas 55 per cent of the vitamin C group were still alive some surviving for a full five years (Cancer Research, 1979; 39: 663-81). However, a later study by Dr Charles Moertel at the Mayo Clinic failed to replicate Pauling's findings, although Pauling accused Moertel of scientific fraud because the vitamin C treatment had been prematurely stopped.

Gerson therapy

The Gerson technique is one of the oldest and most popular alternative nutritional approaches to cancer treatment. Treatment aims to regulate the balance of sodium and potassium by water management, and to provide high doses of micronutrients by frequent consumption of juices from fresh organic fruits and vegetables. The Gerson Diet is also very low in fats and protein. In addition, patients are prescribed frequent enemas containing coffee.

There have been no clinical trials of the therapy in colorectal cancer, but anecdotal reports suggest that patients with even advanced colorectal cancer may survive longer than would be expected with any conventional treatment, with improvements in general health and well being. Some cases have resulted in almost total tumour regression.

The treatment can cause flu like symptoms, intestinal cramping, diarrhoea and vomiting. Coffee enemas may produce colitis or severe inflammation of the colon; serious infections and deaths from electrolyte imbalance due to the use of coffee enemas have been reported.

Mushroom

Since 1965, when the mushroom Coriolus versicolor was first reported to relieve stomach cancer, research has confirmed that the mushroom has antimicrobial, antiviral and antitumour properties. A polysaccharide called Krestin (PSK) in the mushroom's thread like extensions has been found to be responsible. PSK is currently used as a cancer treatment in Japan, principally in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation.

Research has shown that healthy people given a 1 g daily dose experience significant cellular immune response within 12 hours. Cancer patients show marked improvements in immunity with a 3 g daily dose.

Although side effects to C versicolor are uncommon, they can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, skin pigmentation, anorexia, anaemia, liver dysfunction, leukopenia and thrombocytopenia.

In one randomised, controlled trial comparing PSK with placebo treatment in more than 100 patients after surgery for colorectal cancer, the number of patients in remission and surviving at 10 years was significantly higher in the PSK group than in the placebo group (Cancer Immunology Immunotherapy, 1990; 31: 261-8). In another trial on more than 400 patients, again after colon surgery, the overall survival rates of the PSK group were better than those given chemotherapy (Dis Colon Rectum, 1992; 35: 123-130).

A further study found that natural killer cells were activated by PSK and increased in number and the proportion of helper cells increased proportionately (Biotherapy, 1992; 4: 117-28).

Essiac

In 1922, Rene Caisse, head nurse at a hospital in Ontario, Canada, began treating cancer patients with a herbal formula based on a remedy used by a medicine man in the Ojibwa tribe. It consists of four main ingredients: burdock root (Arctium lappa), slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra), sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella)and Turkish rhubarb root (Rheum palmatum), together with small additions of blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus), red clover (Trifolium pratense), watercress and kelp. Nurse Caisse called it Essiac-her own name spelled backwards.

No completed formal studies have been documented. Nevertheless, based on testimonials provided to the Canadian Royal Cancer Commission in 1938, of eight patients with confirmed diagnoses of cancer, positive outcomes in two patients were attributed to Essiac. In 1959, experiments at the prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York showed Essiac produced "definite and pronounced changes" in cancer prone animals.

In the laboratory, burdock has been found to decrease the carcinogenic properties of certain chemicals (Mutation Res, 1984; 129: 25-31).

Revici therapy

In the 1920s, Dr Emanuel Revici developed a system of chemotherapy based on lipids, combined with various elements, such as selenium and omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oils. These treatments have been provided by the Institute of Applied Biology in New York since 1947.

Although there are no published assessments of his clinical records, one unpublished manuscript reported a 48 per cent positive response in 186 colon cancer patients (R Ravich, Evaluation of 1,047 patients with advanced malignancies treated from 1940-1955).

Mistletoe

Mistletoe (Viscum album), a tree parasite, has been revived in cancer therapy particularly in Germany. One laboratory study has demonstrated significant effects of mistletoe extracts on blood taken from cancer patients. Different extracts were found to stimulate the

production of cytokines and Tumour Necrosis Factor, suggesting powerful immune system enhancing properties (Arzneimittelforschung, 1998; 48: 1185-9).

MTH

MTH is an immunotherapy agent developed by Dr Laszlo K Csatary. Hungarian physician, Dr Csatary believed viruses could be harnessed in the war against cancer. By chance, he came across a chicken farmer in Hungary with advanced gastric cancer whose disease had completely regressed after his flock experienced an outbreak of Newcastle disease. Dr Csatary developed a live strain of Newcastle disease virus (NDV) and began using it as a vaccine in cancer patients. He called it MTH-68.

There have been two clinical trials documenting the effects of MTH on colorectal cancer. The first studied patients whose cancer had spread to their liver. After liver surgery, 23 patients received a modified MTH vaccine five times at 14 day intervals followed by a boost three months later.

After a follow up of at least 18 months, 39 per cent of the MTH group had no tumour recurrence, compared only 13 per cent of a matched set of controls (Annals of New York Acad Sciences, 1993; 690). A more recent trial found that two years after MTH treatment, only 3 per cent of colon cancer patients had died, compared to 23 per cent of a matched untreated group (Proc Annu Meet Am Assoc Cancer Res, 1995; 36: A1336).

Side effects include mild, transient flu like symptoms and delayed hypersensitivity skin reactions.

Heat treatment

A novel technique using the principle of heating tumours is being developed at the Lomardi Cancer Center in Washington. Cancer cells have long been known to be susceptible to heat.

A drug called verapamil is inserted into the colon, which has the effect of heating up the surrounding tissue. In animal experiments using human cancer cell grafts, 50 per cent of the tumours disappeared within 12 hours of treatment (Anticancer Res, 1997; 17: 2213-6).

Immune Augmentation Therapy

IAT uses cytokines directly in cancer therapy. Patients' blood is checked daily for any missing cytokines; if any are absent, these are harvested from blood donated by healthy volunteers and then infused into the patient.

No clinical trials have been done on the therapy, but numerous anecdotal case reports show considerably enhanced survival time in advanced cases of colorectal cancer.

The therapy is only available at a clinic in the Bahamas by Dr John Clement. To date, 5,500 patients have been treated there. Side effects are nil.


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