One of the reasons our modern health care system is so dysfunctional is that physicians are often treating conditions that either don’t require treatment or that could instead be handled by low-tech, non-toxic methods—in many cases using tools and strategies that discourage the further progression of disease. Nowhere is this situation more dramatically seen than in the realm of mainstream cancer treatment.
Editor's note: To hear Mark discuss new insights into the optimal approach to cancer, listen to his INTERVIEW with counselor-healer Fiona Moore.
This article provides a surprising new view on how conventional treatments—including surgery for early-stage tumors—are actually setting many cancer patients up for recurrences or relapses later on, and what you can do about it. It’s not that these treatments don’t have a place, but that they’re not being utilized in ways conducive to the patient’s long-term health or longevity.
A few years ago, I visited an MD friend in the Netherlands who has been treating cancer with both orthodox therapies and natural medicines for over three decades. I asked him if he ever had situations where he advised patients with early-stage cancers to postpone surgery. Though his answer came as no surprise to me, I’m fairly sure it will shock many readers who tend to assume that surgery is the best treatment option for dealing with any tumor.
“If a patient with early-stage cancer is averse to surgery, I will often suggest that they try a targeted set of natural methods first to see if the tumor will go away,” my Dutch medical friend said. “With a combination of these methods, the tumor often either shrinks or does nothing. When the tumor stops growing, some say it has entered a state of dormancy or quiescence.” Dormancy in this case refers to tumors that have essentially “gone to sleep” and may remain asleep for the indefinite future.
But why wouldn’t this MD vigorously urge his patients to undergo surgery just to be on the safe side? There are two major reasons, both complementary and both entirely rational from a cutting-edge scientific perspective.
Malignant, Yet Non-Threatening
The first reason is that many early-stage cancers, even those classified as invasive, will never progress or develop into an aggressive disease. By recent estimates, about one third of early-stage breast tumors will either do nothing or disappear without any medical treatment, as Bleyer and Welch reported in the 22 November 2012 New England Journal of Medicine. And at least half of all ductal carcinoma in situ lesions (DCIS, or Stage 0 Breast Cancer) may never progress to become an invasive disease.
And it’s not just breast tumors. The same principle holds true for many early-stage prostate tumors and possibly other tumor types. Indeed, it is for this reason that many older men are encouraged to opt for “watchful waiting” or active surveillance. In other words, wait before you leap. The nutrition-savvy physician will hold off on surgery and instead monitor the individual’s condition over time, urging him to adopt an anti-cancer diet and lifestyle. The man gets to keep his prostate and his sex life, among other things.
Colon and rectal tumors seem to be in the same boat, according to Dr. Wim Ceelen, Director of the Experimental Surgery Lab at Ghent University. Ceelen cites a recent Cochrane meta-analysis suggesting that surgical removal of the primary tumor does not confer any survival benefit. Logically, this is leading many experts to question the efficacy of surgery in the first place, and to look for ways to radically enhance treatment outcomes.
In other words, as lumps and bumps go, many early-stage cancers are no more dangerous than the warts we occasionally see on our skin. The phenomenon of spontaneous remission (tumors disappearing without conventional treatment) has been linked with various anti-cancer immune mechanisms. Hundreds of well-documented spontaneous remissions have been linked with incomplete surgery as well as with fever and dietary changes, to name a few of the more common denominators.
As an aside, this issue of tumors either disappearing on their own or not progressing is why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now advises women to forego mammograms until after age 50. They say mammography frequently results in overdiagnosis and, by extension, in overtreatment. PET scans and breast thermography could offer a way to help distinguish dangerous tumors that need to be treated from the more languorous ones that do not. (I recently coauthored a paper that explores this perspective in depth; it is scheduled for publication in a peer-reviewed medical journal in early 2014.)
Surgery’s Effects Merit Strategic Planning
The second major reason has to do with surgery and the processes associated with wound healing. Whenever you cut into the body, you elicit inflammation and the production of growth factors, something my coauthors and I alluded to in The Rapid Recovery Handbook (HarperCollins 2006). Both sets of processes can fuel the growth and spread of more aggressive cancer. In fact, the evidence suggests that surgery actually awakens metastases or pulls them out of dormancy, turning an otherwise harmless disease into a malignant beast. Even though the procedure eliminates the most visible sign of the disease—that is, the tumor—it sets the stage for recurrences a few yeas later.
Over half of all relapses in breast cancer are triggered and accelerated in this manner, according to the June 2009 International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health. The initial surgery is believed to stimulate the process of angiogenesis (new blood vessel formation), triggering the proliferation of latent micro-metastases. According to research out of the Harvard School of Public Health, between 50 and 80 percent of all relapses that occur two years after surgery—when a large spike in recurrences is typically seen—can be attributed to the original surgery.
At this writing, I’ve gathered at least 15 peer-reviewed medical reports that clearly document the ways in which surgery awakens latent metastases and accelerates the progression of cancer. The most recent paper, published online ahead-of-print in the 16 August 2013 issue of Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology, states that the surgery-metastasis connection has major implications for clinical decision-making in oncology and for the design and timing of treatment strategies.
Some of these strategies are now the focus of intense investigation, and they involve targeting angiogenesis and inflammation around the time of surgery. As an example, a 2010 study of 327 consecutive cancer patients compared various analgesic drugs (pain killers) in a Belgian hospital. The researchers linked the use of an anti-inflammatory analgesic called ketorolac with a dramatic drop in recurrences. Within 18 months of surgery, the relapse rate dropped by a whopping 500%, as reported in the July 2012 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. Confirmation studies are now in progress.
It’s important to understand that relapses invariably mean metastases, and that advanced metastatic disease is a primary cause of cancer-related death. For example, only 2% of women with metastatic breast cancer are expected to survive. By not doing surgery, and instead taking the path suggested by my Dutch MD friend, it’s quite plausible that many early-stage cancer patients could avoid a metastatic situation later on—and thus avoid having to face the toxic consequences of conventional chemotherapy.
About Those Other Mainstream Treatments…
Speaking of chemotherapy, it’s worth noting that high-dose chemotherapy kills tumors mainly through a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death (also called cell suicide). Ditto for high-dose radiotherapy. It turns out that this type of cell death actually switches off the anti-cancer immune mechanisms, so that any cancer cells that survive either chemotherapy or radiotherapy (due to various resistance mechanisms) have a much better chance of turning into aggressive cancer down the road.
So where does this leave us? The conventional treatment trio of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be able to eliminate the initial wave of cancers, but these same treatments also may set the stage for lethal relapses in the years that follow. In my work with cancer patients, I provide information about tools and strategies for deriving greater benefit from the treatments they receive and for fortifying their anti-cancer immune defenses in ways that make up for the various shortcomings of conventional treatments.
If they elect to postpone conventional treatment—and have their oncologist’s blessing to do so—I lay out the self-care options that should buy them better odds of overcoming the disease and staying in the clear. I help them identify strategies and therapies that actually turn on anticancer immunity in order to help eliminate micro-metastases and prevent relapses, while at the same time slowly breaking down early-stage tumors. In addition, I guide them toward better energy, sleep, digestion, and other aspects of healthy, daily functioning.
I’ll be addressing some of the key strategies in upcoming blog articles and presenting some core insights in my upcoming book LIVING IN THE CLEAR. In some cases, even larger tumors can be shrunk and eliminated using methods such as intravenous vitamin C and synergists; however, usually some combination of mainstream and natural methods is ideal in those situations. Some of this understanding is an offshoot of my interviews with cancer experts all over the world in the course of writing the Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer for W. John Diamond, MD. I also learned a great deal in the course of assisting my good friend Keith Block, MD, medical director for the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment, in compiling research for his book, Life Over Cancer.
If you have questions or would like to schedule an integrative cancer coaching session, please reach out.
Ceelen W, Pattyn P, Mareel M. Surgery, wound healing, and metastasis: Recent insights and clinical implications. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2013 Aug 16. [Epub ahead of print]
Lejeune FJ. Is surgical trauma prometastatic? Anticancer Res. 2012;32(3):947-51
Demicheli R, Retsky MW, Hrushesky WJ, Baum M, Gukas ID. The effects of surgery on tumor growth: a century of investigations. Ann Oncol. 2008;19(11):1821-8
© 2017, Mark Nathaniel Mead