Why we are Losing the Cancer War… and How to Win.

‘No cancer by 2025’. That was the announcement in the newspapers in January 2015, in response to an £80 million cut in funding from the government to the Cancer Drugs Fund – provided we kept funding drug research and kept paying for expensive cancer drugs, two thirds of which has since been shown to not work, the remaining third adding, on average, three months to life.

[For a fully referenced version of this article read Issue 86 of my 100% Health newsletter.]

An analysis in a leading cancer journal has found that the fund paid out £1.27bn from 2010 to 2016 – an amount that would have paid for an entire year of mainstream cancer drugs for the NHS. The analysis in the Annals of Oncology journal looked at 29 cancer drugs approved for 47 different types of treatment (known as indications), some of which were approved to treat more than one cancer. They found that only 18 of the 47 treatments prolonged the patient’s life, and then only by an average of three months. The top ten cancer drugs generate $40 billion a year. It’s big business. Of course this was a bit of PR for the cancer drug industry and charities that keep promising but not  delivering. We could call it a ‘Nixonism’.

Back in 1971 President Nixon declared war on cancer, predicting victory by 1976. In 1984 the American National Cancer Institute said mortality would be halved by 2003 and eliminated by 2015. Despite the billions of pounds spent on cancer research, raised by well meaning people running millions of collective miles to honour their prematurely dead relatives, things aren’t getting better. They are getting worse. Back in the 70’s the lifetime risk of cancer was 1 in 5, despite everyone smoking. Now it’s crossed the 1 in 3 threshold, and expected to hit 1 in 2 by 2030. Since 1970 the five year survival rate has barely changed from then 49% to now 54% surviving. In the US, more than a million are diagnosed each year and a half a million die from it.

Having crossed the 50% surviving five years line allowed cancer charities to declare ‘more people are living than dying from cancer’ but that’s a pretty lame claim, especially when more are getting it. Also, earlier diagnosis means more survive 5 years. If you take a look at 10 year survival rate it doesn’t look good.

“The war against cancer is unwinnable.” Says Professor Paul Davies, Principal Investigator at Arizona State University’s Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology. He was asked by the American National Institutes of Health to take a look at cancer through the eyes of a physicist. Davies’s estimate of the benefit of chemotherapy drugs is surprisingly small. ‘Once a cancer has metastasised (spread),’ he says ‘drug treatment produces an average increase in life-span of just four and a half weeks compared with forty years ago.’

It’s the environment that counts

So what does he think is going wrong? The current approach of cut (surgery), burn (radiation) and drug (chemotherapy) ignores the critical shift in thinking among lead researchers that it’s the environment around a cancer cell that determines whether it will spread or not. In the same way the major focus on genes that cause cancer hasn’t produced much in the way of meaningful advances, however the study of epi-genetics, that is the environment that turns ‘cancer’ genes on or off, is proving much more fruitful.Other cancer experts agree. Professor Mina Bissell, Distinguished Scientist with Berkeley Lab’s Life Sciences Division at the University of California and an authority on breast cancer, says “Cancer is not a problem with growth. Instead it is a matter of context. Like small-town kids who get lost in the glitz and glamour of the big city, cancer cells can find themselves disoriented when their surroundings change. Soon, they are running amok, behaving inways they never would at home, where their neighbours help keep them grounded.’

Why sugar promotes cancer

One clear example of this is sugar. While smoking accounts for 30% of a woman’s risk for cancer, being obese accounts for 20%. One Italian study estimated that 15 per cent of breast cancer could be attributed to eating sweet foods. Too much insulin, promoted by a high sugar intake, promotes cancer cell growth. If we want a cancer ‘success’ we need to target diet changes – no sugar, less dairy and low GL for less weight. That’s because fat cells make oestrogen which promotes breast and prostate cancer cell growth. So too does insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), stimulated by dairy products, and insulin, stimulated by sugar.

Leading drug and gene oriented charity Cancer Research Campaign is in total denial about the sugar link, preferring to fund cup cake parties and fun runs to pour money into new drugs.

Yet cancer cells are known to need more glucose than healthy cells and to break it  down in a different way, called aerobic glycolysis. The commonly accepted explanation for this is that their glucose demand is a result of turning cancerous. However what Professor Bisell found last year was that glycolysis itself promotes cancer and what’s more it could be reversed. “A dramatic increase in sugar intake could be a cause of oncogenesis,” she says on the Berkeley Lab website. The change involved a protein called GLUT3, required to move glucose into cells, which is found in very high levels in cancerous breast  tissue.This research suggests why the high blood sugar levels found in people who are obese or diabetic can increase the risk of cancer. This is the reason why other researchers have become very  interested in low GL diets, and even ketogenic diets – which involves a major reduction in carbohydrate consumption. Bissell’s research showed that pushing up GLUT3 production in healthy cells turned them cancerous while damping it down in cancerous cells turned off the cancer causing genes. The result was that the cells became healthy again, even though the cancerous mutations were still there. In other words changes in the environment of cancer cells can change the effect of cancer causing genes.

Take the example of the BCRA ‘breast cancer’ gene. The faulty BRCA gene makes breast cancer cells grow. Not having dairy products inhibits breast cancer cell growth, as does a higher intake of soya in those with the BRCA gene, according to a recent study which found that a higher soya intake cut breast cancer risk by 60% in BRCA carriers. It’s the environment that drives the genes and cancer cell growth, not just the presence of ‘cancer’ genes that drive the cancer.

Polyphenol protection

Organic fruits and vegetables are high in polyphenols, and have potent antioxidant effects. These are another group of compounds that create an environment that makes it hard for cancer cells to grow. A classic example of this is vitamin C which, in high doses, is non-toxic to healthy cells but extremely toxic to cancer cells. So too are salvestrols, compounds found in organic produce, especially herbs, that are processed only in cancer cells into cancer killing chemicals. So many sources of polyphenols have been tried and tested and found to be strongly anti-cancer. For example, berry extracts have been shown to reduce tumour growth by 50%.

Stress and inflammation

Stressed cells send out chemical signals to cells that cause inflammation which trigger more changes in a cancerous direction. It is no surprise to find that potent anti-inflammatories, such as turmeric, are also potent suppressors of cancer cell growth. Stress hormones, such as cortisol, are strongly linked to cancer promotion as the body shuts down repair in a state of stress. It is not just one’s biochemical, but also psychological environment that makes a difference. Read my new book The Stress Cure, co-authored with Susannah Lawson.

This idea of improving the ‘milieu’, or strengthening the host, is not new. Louis Pasteur, who discovered in the nineteenth century that microorganisms were responsible for infections, realised late in his life that strengthening the body, rather than conquering the invading organism, might prove a more effective strategy. Yet for the last hundred years medicine has focused on drugs designed to destroy the invader – antibiotics, anti-viral agents, chemotherapy.

Personalising cancer treatment with natural remedies

But what is the right ‘milieu’? Obviously, we can say no sugar, dairy and lots of polyphenol rich foods but specific cancer cells respond differently to different anti-cancer agents. Fortunately, the ‘hit and miss’ of cancer therapy can now be largely avoided by testing specific agents against a person’s specific cancer cell line.

This approach has been pioneered by the Research Genetic Cancer Centre in Greece. They have developed the ability to test a comprehensive panel of natural remedies, as well as chemotherapy drugs if required, against a person’s specific kind of cancer, from a blood sample containing cancer cells. Among the natural agents they test for efficacy are artemesia, vitamins A, C and D, mistletoe, indole-3-carbonol (broccoli extract), genestein (soya isoflavone) quercitin (red onions), curcumin (turmeric), green tea extract, , ganoderma, maitake, acemannan (aloe), resveratrol and other salvestrols. I have written about many of these in my book Say No to Cancer and, to a certain extent, many of these can be included on a regular basis in a healthy diet.There are also often whole books extolling the virtues of one or more of the remedies – from an alkalizing diet to aloe vera or immune boosting mushrooms or high dose vitamin A, C or D. No doubt the author had a miracle cure from that particular remedy but we are all different. It is good to know that difference can now be factored in. It’s often the combination of the right factors that makes all the difference.

The way to win the cancer war is to stop thinking of cancer as the enemy, as the TV ads would have us believe, and start to focus more on creating a biochemical, physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual environment that restores balance, making it hard for cancer cells to thrive or even survive. We all have cancer cells but most do not harm us. I do believe it may be possible to have no cancer deaths by 2025, not by destroying cancer with drugs, radiation and surgical procedures, but rather by recognizing that we create our own environment, and it can be healthy or unhealthy. Any cancer approach must be accompanied by a radical reappraisal of one’s total environment to ensure success.