Sunday, August 15, 2010

Herbs and Cancer

Alex in the Hospital July 2nd 2010
The use of herbs and supplements with cancer patients is an area that is fraught with misunderstanding and poor information but the need is so great.        

To nourish and rebalance the body so that cancer will not grow by  eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, monitoring Vitamin D, getting the right amount of omega 3 fats, keeping mineral ratios in balance, leading a healthy lifestyle and detoxification are a few examples.  There are many others.

Combining Herbs with Chemo. and Radiotherapy
Herbs can work well with chemotherapy and radiation to sensitize a tumor to the biomedical treatments, and nourish the body without interfering with chemo. and radiation.  In China, they have a lot of experience in combining east and west.  Their reserach shows when the two are combined together the outcomes are better than either one alone (please see an article I wrote about combining herbs with radiotherapy).  In my own case, my pathology report revealed a 99% dead tumor.  This means that there was no living tissue found in my large mass.  Though I cannot prove it, it is my belief that the herbs I took, custom formulated for my body condition, the type of tumor I had and my symptoms, were of tremendous benefit.  I don't think my pathology report would been as good without them.  Below are two examples of the multi-function nature of my herbal formulas. 

Radiation according to Chinese Medicine is understood as a toxic heat.  Radiation causes skin burning.  I took herbs during my own radiation treatment that have radiosensitizing effects, combined with other herbs that have anti-cancer effects, combined with herbs that have hematopoetic properties (blood building) , combined with cooling herbs that promote fluids.  In addition I used a topical burn cream.

Chemotherapy in Chinese Medicine is understood as a cold toxin to fight a heat toxin (rapidly dividing cancer cells).  When I was in chemotherapy I was always cold.  I took a multi-function formula to help reduce blood stagnation that had anti-cancer properties and chemosensitizing properties.  The formula also had immune system strengthening herbs along with supportive herbs to strengthen digestion and absorbtion and protect the bone marrow. I was able to eat through all of my chemotherapy. 

Direct Anti-Cancer Effects
Many herbs do have anti-cancer properties but are nowhere near as strong as pharmaceutical chemotherapy.  There are many instances in which a cancer patient may want to take herbs like this.  For example, inbetween treatments, when the Oncologists wants to "watch and wait", or in early stages before treatment begins.  One dramatic story of the use of herbs in this regard was a lymphoma patient who refused a bone marrow transplant after refractory cancer occurred 6 months after a clean PET scan.  I was able to keep her cancer from growing for two years until she developed some toxicity to the herbs.  She did have a life-saving bone marrow transplant but in the ensuing two years the techniques of BMT improved.  She still takes herbs and supplements.  I must add the disclaimer: That herbal medicine is never a substitute for a proper diagnosis, monitoring and biomedical treatment from an oncologist. 

Post Treatment Recovery
Cancer treatment is harsh on the body and a person can have many side-effects, really unwanted effects, that can sometimes last a long time.  Herbs and supplements can improve chronic bone marrow suppression, fatigue, accelerate healing from surgery and recovery from chemotherapy, mitigate hot flashes,  help treat a dry cough from chest radiation, prevent neuropathy, improve liver and kidney and digestive function all to improve health. These herbs are always individually chosen based upon specific symptoms. 

A few other notes on herbs:  When you are getting diagnosed or in active cancer treatment it is like learning to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool.  The anxiety, stress in addition to physical problems can be overwhelming.  Taking herbs is empowering.  They are something that you choose to do that can have a significant impact on outcome.  Under the "hammer of fate"  all tools are important. 

Second, Professional advice from someone you trust that is experienced in combining herbs with Oncology patients is important.  This person must understand the potential herb-drug interactions as well as the synergies between herbs and drugs so that the hippocratic oath can be made manifest in your body: "First do no harm".  Do not go to a health food store and ask what to take.  Further the marketing of "miracle" products can create so much confusion that it is difficult to make rational choices.

In my own case, I was as fastidious about taking herbs and supplements and it paid off for me.  I see herbal medicine as an integral part of any cancer fighting plan.