In India, out of two women with breast cancer, one will die within five years. Many of these lives can be saved through the early detection of cancer. If the cancer is detected at stage 1 when it is located in the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. If detected at stage 3 or 4 when it has spread to other body parts and organs, the five-year survival rate drops to 22%. In India, most cases are detected at stage 3 or 4.
Cancer is endogenous, it is part of the process that creates and ends life. Therefore, it cannot be prevented or cured. But early detection can increase life expectancy and improve post-cancer quality of life. For cancer, the saying is not “prevention is the cure”, but “early detection is the cure”.
By 2030, India will have 200,000 cases of breast cancer and 100,000 deaths. Twenty-five years ago, about 30% of patients were under fifty. Now about 50% are. And 5% of cases concern women under the age of 40.
Experimental and integrative medicine therapies provide better treatment and improve post-cancer quality of life. Alternative therapies are a misnomer. Because medical treatment has no alternative. Dietary and herbal supplements can be harmful. Let’s examine all of this.
Experimental cancer treatments
A. Gene therapy: In gene therapy, a nucleic acid drug is administered to correct or destroy genetic aberration (cancer) cells. Its advantages are:
*It targets tumor cells and does not affect normal cells.
*It corrects molecular defects and thus delays the progression of cancer.
* It has little toxicity compared to other therapies.
* It is effective against a particularly stubborn type of breast cancer cells and causes them to self-destruct.
* It reduces the chances of cancer recurrence.
*It helps increase the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy.
* It is also used to provide RNA interference technologies or DNA cancer vaccines.
It is likely to become a popular therapy for breast cancer and other cancers, but there are currently no approved products for breast cancer.
B. Focused Ultrasound Therapy: High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is a new technology that is being researched. HIFU focuses a high frequency pressure wave onto a small target volume. It causes a local temperature increase that induces coagulative necrosis (death) and protein denaturation (structural disruption) of the target cancer cell within seconds. It is used to treat benign and malignant tumors. Its advantages are:
* It is an early stage non-invasive therapy technology and therefore has less risk of infection and blood clots and has potential for shorter recovery time.
*It can be precisely targeted and thus minimizes damage to non-targeted healthy tissue.
* It has no ionizing radiation, so it can be used repeatedly.
*It can be used alone or in addition to drug treatment allowing better administration of chemotherapy or immunotherapy to tumors.
*It can induce an anti-tumor immune response.
*It can improve the quality of life and decrease the cost of care for patients.
Integrative medicine is a combination of medical treatment and complementary therapies. These do not treat cancer, but can help with the signs and symptoms – such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, trouble sleeping and stress – caused by cancer and cancer treatments.
A. Complementary therapies
Types of complementary therapies that can improve well-being include hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music therapy, tai chi, chiropractic therapy, reflexology, reiki, therapeutic touch, biofeedback, imagery (imagining scenes, images or experiences), creative outlets (art, music or dance).
This also includes vitamins and dietary supplements, herbal medicines, which are plants or parts of plants (eg cannabis), herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon, and special foods or diets .
Most complementary therapies are safe and effective.
B. Useful supplements
Clinical trials show that certain herbs and nutritional supplements help manage specific side effects of cancer treatment. For example, American ginseng and astragalus root used in traditional Chinese medicine may help reduce some side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue. Nutritional supplements like glutamine, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and omega-3s can help treat peripheral neuropathy. However, these supplements are not suitable for everyone, and more research is needed to confirm their safety and effectiveness.
C. Alternative therapies
Alternative therapies are sometimes offered as an alternative to medical treatment. These therapies claim that cancer can be treated by taking certain herbs or supplements, or foods, and avoiding certain foods. But these therapies are refuted or unproven. They do not treat cancer and are often harmful. Because they don’t stop cancer growth. It can therefore get worse and thus reduce treatment options due to the severity of the cancer.
The claim that these therapies are natural and therefore safe is false. Natural is not necessarily safe. Poisonous mushrooms are natural but not safe. Herbal supplements can be harmful when taken alone, with other substances, or in high doses. For example, kava kava, an herb used to combat stress and anxiety, can damage the liver. And St. John’s, used for depression, may stop some cancer drugs from working as well as they should.
D. Food supplements
People take dietary or herbal products to improve their health, to get extra nutrition, to boost the immune system, or to treat side effects. Diet products are vitamin and mineral products. Herbal, botanical and other “natural” products may contain plants or parts of plants, algae or fungi, or animal extracts, such as toad or snake venom.
Not all supplements are safe or effective, especially during cancer treatment. For example, supplements like garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding. This could be dangerous for patients undergoing or recovering from surgery. Supplements can also interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications. They can also be dangerous for specific health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health issues, heart disease, or blood clotting problems.
E. Side Effects of Supplements
*Supplements can cause serious side effects, including:
*High blood pressure
*Diet or herbal products do not treat cancer.
*Herbs may interact with chemotherapy and other drug treatments.
*Antioxidant supplements can make cancer treatments less effective.
Complementary and alternative cancer therapies do not treat cancer. But they can ease the signs and symptoms — such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, trouble sleeping, and stress — caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, music therapy and tai chi – alone or in combination can be beneficial.
But many alternative cancer treatments are disproved or unproven, and some may even be dangerous.
Cancer treatment in other systems of medicine
Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Yoga, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Chinese Medicine also have cancer treatments. But these are not proven. Although some of them can help deal with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.
“The only person who can save you is you” – Sheryl Crow
Cancer is a 3200 year old disease. It is endogenous, part of the process of life. Thus, it cannot be eradicated, prevented or cured. Again.
Late detection of cancer is deadly. The causes of late detection are numerous but the lack of awareness is the main cause. Other main causes are patient shyness, social stigma and ignorance of doctors due to which treatment is delayed. An awareness program will address all these issues.
If you loved your life before cancer, don’t be afraid of life after cancer. You will find beauty. “I loved the stars too much to be afraid of the night.” — Galileo.
Will a radical discovery in the future make it possible to prevent and cure cancer? We do not know. But we can always hope.
Because, as Richard Causer, Director, NCI, USA, says of the future of cancer cure, “there are far more good historians than prophets”.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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