Sep 222015
 

If you have cancer, this is how I view it: You are in a monster truck rally.

You are a person, and your opponent is a STEAMROLLER.

Warning: Harsh views ahead!

If you think you’re going to take five pancreatic enzyme capsules a day and turn back the steamroller, my view is: YOU ARE SORELY MISTAKEN. If you think you’re going to do a few vitamin C IVs or eat a little less sugar and turn back the steamroller, I think THAT’S UNLIKELY. If you think a few tweaks or improvements to your lifestyle are going to turn back the steamroller, I believe THEY PROBABLY WON’T.

Harsh? Yes. But it’s less harsh than selling the myth that small lifestyle changes will produce big results.

What Is Radical?

Think about how radical chemotherapy is. Your hair usually falls out, you usually feel terrible, and almost all of your body systems are affected. Or think about radiation. You basically damage your DNA to try to kill off the cancer cells, hoping that the normal cells can survive the damage and recover. Surgery is pretty intense, too.

That’s how radical you need to be, whether you’re fighting with chemical weapons or natural ones or both. The book Radical Remission by Kelly Turner really makes this principle crystal clear: The degree of intensity required does NOT change if you opt for alternative over conventional. And that’s the biggest mistake I think people make when choosing alternatives.

There’s a great graphic that really illustrates what’s required, no matter which path to healing you choose: It has a tiny circle labeled, “Your Comfort Zone,” and then several feet away is a HUGE circle labeled, “Where the Magic Happens.” And it’s true, in almost all things in life: No magic ever happens inside your comfort zone or even near it.

If you’re not uncomfortable, if you’re not off the map beyond where you’ve gone before, chances are you’re not where you need to be.

Tough Love

I know that’s hard to hear. It’s an unpleasant message. I didn’t want to hear it when I first finished radiation. I wanted to take a few supplement pills, have a few snacks with healthy nutrient powder mixed in, and be okay. But I wasn’t feeling okay, and I made a serious mistake in trying to take my recovery lightly.

As the great herbalist Dr. Richard Schulze says (and I paraphrase), don’t try to fight a steamroller with a spray of basil oil. You need your own steamroller. For the most part, as Radical Remission shows, people who survive are the ones who take massive action – and keep taking it.

I believe you owe it to yourself to take massive action, whatever your path. What do you think?

May 172013
 

A post on breastcancer.org caught my attention, and I responded to it, but wanted to share my thought process here as well. I’m aware that my decision to have radiation treatment will be the most controversial part of my story for some readers, and the least controversial part of my story for other readers. So, for all readers:

I do not regret my decision to have radiation treatment. But I took control of my treatment, and I took steps to repair the damage afterward.

After an inconclusive needle biopsy (which I will never do again), an inconclusive MRI, an inconclusive excisional biopsy, and a lumpectomy that finally determined I had a non-aggressive mucinous carcinoma (not as bad as it sounds), I did a ton of research before meeting with the radiation oncologist. I determined that I would do radiation ONLY in the prone position 1. I also wanted partial breast radiation. She convinced me to do whole breast radiation, but we did it in the prone position. My heart and lungs were not in the radiation field. I insisted that the sentinel node biopsy site be removed from the field, because the sentinel nodes were negative. We argued, until I stated I was out unless the site was out. Then they agreed that this made logical sense. I also had them use 3D-CRT instead of IMRT to reduce the risk of a second malignancy from distant scatter 2.

Because I knew I was not going to take tamoxifen 3, I waited a minimum amount of time between surgery and radiation — 4 weeks 4. I had 16 treatments, for a total dose of about 42 Gray. A long-term study showed that this particular regimen was actually better for my particular tumor characteristics and my age 5. Also, this left me with sufficient headroom that if this ever happens again, I can have another lumpectomy and partial-breast radiation.

I used Boiron calendula lotion during radiation, which worked great to prevent any awful skin issues, and had some effects that proved to be temporary. I had a light sunburn that took a long time to fade. And a few months after treatment, my breast became harder. But around then, I got on my vitamin, mineral and hormone balancing program with a well-known doctor-ally. My results have been amazing, and my life has been amazing, since then. I have repaired DNA damage, and my breast became soft and normal-colored again. The dark spots that my dermatologist said would only worsen over time, have disappeared.

So, I found that I COULD recover from radiation damage. I didn’t know that when I made the choice to have treatment, but I made the decisions I felt were best with the information I had at hand, I was strategic and took control of my health decisions, and I do not regret it.

Would I do it again? I have no idea. With my health and wellness program, which gives me meaningful data every 3 months so I can see when and if I need to course-correct, I’m trying to put myself in a position where I will never have to make that decision.

Notes:

  1. Lying Prone for Radiation Best for Breast Tx, MedPage, 2012.
  2. Radiation-induced second cancers: the impact of 3D-CRT and IMRT, International Journal of Radiation Oncology, 2002.
  3. Caveat: Tamoxifen was later deemed “optional but preferred” for me by three different oncologists. I declined it.
  4. Delaying Post-Surgical Radiation Increases Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence in Older Women, Study Finds, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute via ScienceDaily, 2010.
  5. Long-Term Results of Hypofractionated Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer, The New England Journal of Medicine, 2010.
May 082011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Although typically used for headaches and cardiovascular issues, studies also continue to determine if aspirin could reduce risk of developing various types of cancer. More about aspirin in general is available at Wikipedia.

Cancer

Studied Uses: Cancer prevention and recurrence

Cancer Evidence Summary - Aspirin - https://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Cancer Score: 5.48

Behind the Score: The score for aspirin is positive, but the picture presented by studies is actually mixed, with several studies showing no effect or a negative effect, most notably for breast cancer prevention 1 but also in one study for kidney and colon cancers 2. One study even showed an increased risk for ER/PR negative breast cancer, a type viewed as aggressive. 3 (Ibuprofen also showed an increased risk of breast cancer, especially “non-localized” tumors, in that study.) That said, the picture appears to be more positive for some colorectal cancers (especially if a family history is involved 4 5 and other digestive tract cancers 6, as well as for lung cancer. 7 As noted earlier, the picture is somewhat mixed even for colorectal cancers, with an earlier randomized trial showing no benefit. 8

Notably, despite the lackluster results seen for breast cancer prevention, one prospective study reported dramatically increased survival after breast cancer among aspirin users (relative risk of death=0.29), especially for use 2 to 5 days a week, regardless of “stage, menopausal status, body mass index, or estrogen receptor status.” 9 This effect may be due to COX-2 inhibitor (anti-inflammatory) activity of aspirin.

Warnings and Special Notes: One study of elderly individuals showed an increased risk of kidney cancer corresponding with aspirin use, especially for men (although the total number of kidney cancer cases was only 35 among 22,000 study participants). That same study also showed an increased risk for both sexes of colorectal cancer corresponding with aspirin use, whereas other studies generally have shown a decreased risk. 10 A different study of women showed an increased risk for ER/PR negative breast cancer. 11

What Now? Studies continue on the effects of aspirin in cancer prevention. It should be noted that the studies showing decreased risk were mainly epidemiological/prospective studies, which rely on participant reports of use of aspirin. On the good side, these types of studies tend to involve a large number (e.g., many thousands) of participants and a long follow-up period. It is possible that there is an unidentified co-factor (such as lifestyle choices) causing the decreased risk seen in prospective trials.

What Can I Do? Aspirin is widely available over-the-counter. Bear in mind that although some studies support its use for cancer prevention, others do not and in fact show an increased risk. Use caution and make your choice based on your own individual situation and medical history.

Notes:

  1. Low-dose aspirin in the primary prevention of cancer: the Women’s Health Study: a randomized controlled trial., Journal of the American Medical Association, 2005.
  2. Aspirin use and chronic diseases: a cohort study of the elderly, British Medical Journal, 1989.
  3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Use and Breast Cancer Risk by Stage and Hormone Receptor Status. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2005.
  4. A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Prevention Trial of Aspirin and/or Resistant Starch in Young People with Familial Adenomatous Polyposis. Cancer Prevention Research, 2011.
  5. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Colorectal Cancer Risk in a Large, Prospective Cohort. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2011.
  6. Aspirin, Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs, and the Risks of Cancers of the Esophagus. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2008.
  7. Regular Adult Aspirin Use Decreases the Risk of Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer among Women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2008.
  8. Low-Dose Aspirin and Incidence of Colorectal Tumors in a Randomized Trial. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1993.
  9. Aspirin Intake and Survival After Breast Cancer, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2010.
  10. Aspirin use and chronic diseases: a cohort study of the elderly, British Medical Journal, 1989.
  11. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Use and Breast Cancer Risk by Stage and Hormone Receptor Status. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2005.
Apr 172011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Wikipedia entry.

Studied Risks: General health

General Health

Aluminum Evidence Summary - General - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Score: -2.15

Behind the Score: The score is only slightly negative because aluminum, although widely rumored to be a cause of diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer’s, has not been definitively proven to cause any health problems other than isolated instances of contact dermatitis or granulomas. 1 2 However, relatively few clinical studies have been conducted. Of those, a large prospective study in France that covered 8- and 15-year intervals showed Alzheimer’s incidence rose as aluminum concentrations in drinking water increased (and fell as silica concentrations rose). 3 4 However, some other studies did not corroborate those results. 5 6 Another inconclusive study showed increased risk for use of aluminum-containing antiperspirant but decreased risk for use of aluminum-containing antacids (though much higher risk for use of all antacids “regardless of aluminum content”). Consider that at least hundreds of millions of people worldwide use aluminum-containing antiperspirants. 7

Adding to this murky picture, a preliminary literature review related to cancer 8 and a study related to breast cysts 9 were inconclusive.

Warnings and Special Notes: See the research studies noted above for possible adverse effects of aluminum.

What Now? More rigorous study is warranted, since no direct effects have been proven. In the meantime, caution (as with discretion) may be the better part of valor.

What Can I Do? To address the possible links found by researchers, deodorants without aluminum (or parabens, another possibly toxic substance) are readily available and reasonably priced at health stores.

Also, if you’re a U.S. resident, you can check aluminum levels in your tap water by entering your ZIP code to view the Environmental Working Group’s database for your local area.

 

Mar 262011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Wikipedia entry. Note: Melatonin is a natural hormone that is also available as a supplement. The Evidence Summary and Score below assess the benefits and/or risks of melatonin levels in general.

Studied Uses: General health, cancer

General Health

Melatonin - General Health Evidence Summary - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Score: 2.18

Behind the Score:

Evidence for beneficial effects of relatively high melatonin levels is piling up across many types of studies and in relation to many disorders and biomarkers. Experiments have variously studied sleep quality 1, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) 2, behavioral disturbances in Alzheimer’s 3, and brain damage 4. Perhaps the biggest hope for melatonin is as a cancer protective, discussed below because the number of studies warrants a separate section.

That said, the majority of studies comprising the overall score assessed test subjects’ natural melatonin levels (based on working shift hours, natural sleep-and-wake cycles, or physiological factors such as BMI and age) rather than the value of melatonin supplementation. If planning to supplement, talk with a doctor to find the right dose, since it is quite possible to take too much melatonin. Even better may be increasing your own body’s production of melatonin through lifestyle changes.

For example, natural melatonin production may be suppressed by exposure to bright lights (such as computer screens) after dark. 5 And it doesn’t take that much light to suppress melatonin production. 6 Another study showed that women who routinely “were not asleep at or after 1:00 a.m.,” the time of highest melatonin production, had higher serum estradiol levels, which may be a risk factor for cancer. 7 Overall, light exposure at night appears to pose risks for humans, which this study from the Journal of Pineal Research does an excellent job of summarizing.

Warnings and Special Notes: Melatonin’s greatest effects may be in its naturally occurring form. Melatonin supplementation has not been sufficiently studied in pregnancy and breastfeeding.


Cancer

Melatonin - Cancer Evidence Summary - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Score: 1.96

Behind the Score:

Some studies that looked at natural melatonin levels found correlations between higher melatonin levels and lower cancer risk 8 9, although one prospective study in premenopausal women found no association and another found an increased risk in the two years after baseline measurement of melatonin levels and a decreased risk over the longer term. 10 (Researchers speculated that this result could reflect preexisting sub-clinical illness affecting baseline melatonin measurements in some women — in other words, they were already sick at the beginning of the study and their melatonin levels were high as a result!) Notably, most studies of melatonin supplementation did not identify a positive effect on cancer risk, recurrence risk, or biomarkers. For example, a double-blinded, randomized controlled trial of melatonin supplementation in postmenopausal breast cancer survivors found improved sleep with melatonin supplementation but not improved biomarkers 11 (caveat: The study was small and short-term, with 95 women studied over 4 months). Another study of melatonin use in people with metastatic brain cancer found no benefit; in fact, the people given melatonin supplements had shorter median survival times than historical control data would predict. 12 Conversely, it increased survival times for lung cancer patients who did not respond to initial chemotherapy. 13

Warnings and Special Notes: Melatonin’s greatest effects may be in its naturally occurring form. Melatonin supplementation also has not been sufficiently studied in pregnancy and breastfeeding.


What Now? More rigorous study is warranted, especially of supplementation.

What Can I Do? You can work to boost your body’s melatonin production by:

  • Going outside for at least half an hour each day and letting full-spectrum light reach your eyes (yes, that means no glasses or contacts during that time)
  • Getting to bed relatively early and at a consistent time;
  • Sleeping in a dark room or using a good eye mask;
  • Keeping the lights off if you need to get up in the middle of the night (be careful, though!);
  • Decreasing exposure to blue-spectrum light (such as your computer screen or television, or blue-spectrum fluorescent lights) after dark;

One possible mitigation for late-night computer users: Try Flux, an application for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux that adjusts screen brightness and color spectrum to match the time of day.

All of this may be a tall order, since the modern urban lifestyle features a lot of bright lights and late nights. If you’re unwilling or unable to make lifestyle changes, or you’ve tried and think they aren’t helping enough, you can talk with your doctor about trying a melatonin supplement. This might or might not be right for you, but getting the dose right is definitely important.

 

Notes:

  1. Prolonged-release melatonin improves sleep quality and morning alertness in insomnia patients aged 55 years and older and has no withdrawal effects. Journal of Sleep Research, 2007.
  2. Reduced oxidative damage in ALS by high-dose enteral melatonin treatment. Journal of Pineal Research, 2006.
  3. Decreased Melatonin Levels in Postmortem Cerebrospinal Fluid in Relation to Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Apolipoprotein E-{epsilon}4/4 Genotype. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 1999.
  4. The protective role of melatonin in experimental hypoxic brain damage. Pediatrics International, 2005.
  5. Effects of VDT tasks with a bright display at night on melatonin, core temperature, heart rate, and sleepiness. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2003.
  6. Minimum light intensity required to suppress nocturnal melatonin concentration in human saliva, Neuroscience Letters, 1998.
  7. Light Exposure at Night, Urinary 6-Sulfatoxymelatonin, and Serum Estrogens and Androgens in Postmenopausal Japanese Women. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2008.
  8. Urinary Melatonin Levels and Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk in the Nurses’ Health Study Cohort. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2009.
  9. Urinary Melatonin Levels and Breast Cancer Risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2005.
  10. Urinary 6-Sulphatoxymelatonin levels and risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women: the ORDET cohort. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2010.
  11. Randomized trial of oral melatonin supplementation in breast cancer survivors. Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research, 2010.
  12. Randomized Phase II Trial of High-Dose Melatonin and Radiation Therapy for RPA Class 2 Patients With Brain Metastases (RTOG 0119). International Journal of Radiation Oncology, 2007.
  13. Randomized study with the pineal hormone melatonin versus supportive care alone in advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer resistant to a first-line chemotherapy containing cisplatin. Oncology, 1992.
Mar 252011
 

This post is in initial build-out status and may change.

General Information: Wikipedia entry

Studied Uses: General health

General Health

Fructose Evidence Summary - General Health - http://sheet.zoho.com

Overall Score: -2.25

Behind the Score: The preponderance of studies show various negative effects from fructose consumption, although the score is not staggeringly negative because most studies to date have been animal 1 or in vitro 2 studies, with the notable exception of a small double-blinded parallel-arm study 3 (which showed a link to visceral fat and decreased insulin sensitivity) and a large cohort study 4 (which showed a possible link to gout). Moreover, it’s becoming conventional wisdom that high-fructose corn syrup is unhealthy 5, despite counter-arguments of the Corn Refiners Association. But what about whole fruits, fruit juices and sweeteners like agave nectar? The answer is complicated. (See the “Warnings and Special Notes” and “What Can I Do?” sections below.)

Warnings and Special Notes: A recent in vitro study 6 showed that fructose fed pancreatic cancer cells — so even organic or raw fructose-based sweeteners do not seem like such a “free pass” anymore 7. To minimize fructose, the answer seems simple: Favor low-fructose vegetables and fruits, and avoid high-fructose products. Note: To reduce pesticide and GM food exposure, eat organic fruits and vegetables.

What Now? Further study is definitely warranted, as the pancreatic-cancer study mentioned above was in vitro and did not involve human subjects. In general, most studies performed to date have found fructose has negative effects in animals, in vitro, and in humans.

What Can I Do? Keep eating whole fruits — they are widely acknowledged to have far more benefits than drawbacks. If you’re concerned about sugar intake, refer to the fructose chart and choose fruits that have relatively low amounts. (Note: Cancer patients may want to read the Warnings and Special Notes section above.) Compared to whole fruits, fruit juices contain relatively large amounts of sugars and much less fiber, so choosing whole fruits instead is probably a better choice.

Regarding sweeteners, regular table sugar is about 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose. High-fructose corn syrup often has either 42 or 55 percent fructose 8 (plus, it is often made from genetically modified corn), and agave nectar can range from about 56 to 92 percent fructose 9. With regard to fructose-heavy sweeteners such as agave nectar, used in many raw and/or vegan food products, some in moderation may be acceptable unless further studies show definite negative effects. Proponents cite agave nectar’s low glycemic index, which means it doesn’t affect blood glucose as much as table sugar. However, use caution if you have or had cancer. If you would rather avoid agave nectar and fructose in general, there are (imperfect) alternatives, such as stevia and xylitol.