Combatting the lady killer
January 24th 2017, 15:52
Medicine, we’re told, is feeling victorious about beating breast cancer, now that the incidence of heart disease has overtaken it as Britain’s number-one lady killer.
This victory celebration may be premature. While deaths may have decreased by 35 per cent since the early 1970s, the incidence of this form of cancer is going up—by a projected 2 per cent. Breast cancer still accounts for a third of all cancers reported in women; it affects one in eight women and kills more than one in five of women diagnosed with the disease.
Small wonder that government agencies like the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), Britain’s drugs watchdog, are turning to the aromatase inhibitor anastrozole as the new ‘great white hope’ against breast cancer and urging millions of healthy women to get ‘chemoprevention’.
But this is simply more evidence of a long-standing mindset when it comes to cancer treatment, which argues that combatting cancer requires nothing less than all-out nuclear warfare. In the late 19th century, the response of surgeons to cancer was to cut away huge chunks of healthy tissue as an insurance policy that they’d ‘got it all’. In head or neck cancer, surgeons removed part of the jawbone; in breast cancer, they removed the breast, lymph nodes and most of the chest wall.
But even in the early part of the last century, if you had cancer of the pelvis or internal organs, you very well might have lost the entire lower half of your body.
While these days the treatments are less mutilating, today’s doctors maintain the notion that every last cancer cell must be cut, burned or chemically blasted away and so prescribe a complex mix of drugs, radiation and surgery to ensure against the return of a single cancerous cell.
This mindset tends to create a Hobson’s choice for every cancer patient between getting killed by the disease or getting killed by the cure. Not long ago, a doctor returned from an autopsy with the proud announcement that his patient, who’d had widespread disseminated cancer, had died ‘cancer-free’. What he neglected to say was that the patient hadn’t died of cancer—it was the lung disease induced by the murderously high chemotherapy that finally got him.
Advocating chemoprevention is part of this same mindset. By pushing such a programme of drugs, NICE is ignoring the fact that healthy women will then be given a toxic agent that is itself likely to increase their chances of developing osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke, muscle or joint pain and even depression—all this for a drug that might lower the risk of cancer in high-risk women from 4 per cent to 2 per cent.
Dr Richard Evans and Dr Christine Horner (see page 50), both American surgeons, are two renegades brave enough to challenge the idea that cancer requires an all-out war. Dr Evans, author of Making the Right Choice, discovered that, in many types of cancer cases, patients opting for conservative surgery alone don’t die a single day sooner than those who also get the chemo or radiation on top of surgery. In other words, he writes, “there is no survival disadvantage to leaving tumour cells alone and simply observing the patient”.
Dr Horner, a plastic surgeon who performs reconstructive surgery after mastectomy, goes one step further. After investigating the medical literature on cancer treatments, she was outraged to discover that many natural foods, spices and supplements have solid scientific evidence of slowing or even eliminating cancer.
One of the safest and most effective cancer killers is turning out to be vitamin C. While the late Nobel laureate Linus Pauling was advocating its use against cancer 40 years ago, it’s taken this long for medicine to catch up.
New evidence from the University of Iowa has confirmed that vitamin C given intravenously is some 500 times more concentrated than when taken orally, and specifically targets cancer by generating hydrogen peroxide in the body, which is lethal only to cancer cells, not healthy tissue. The vitamin has already passed the test-tube and animal trials, and is now being tested in patients with pancreatic and lung cancers, whose progress will be measured against similar cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.
Instead of attempting to blast cancer out of the body with the most powerful armaments possible, it’s time to cut the war down to size. Cancer is not a disease requiring a massive external offensive. All that’s necessary may be to offer the body under attack the gentle tools it needs to heal itself. As with so much of medicine, less is more.