Alternative Treatments for Cancer

Cancer. The word itself is enough to make you shudder. Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of the disease is that there is still so much we don't know about it. But progress is being made in understanding the contributing factors and in developing treatments. Heredity influences your risk of developing certain cancers, but factors considered "environmental" -- such as smoking and alcohol consumption -- appear to play important roles, too.

Another environmental influence that has garnered more and more attention is diet -- both in terms of its role in triggering cancer and its potential role in helping to prevent it. Indeed, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), 30 to 40 percent of all cancers are directly linked to food, physical activity, and body weight. Unlike heredity, diet is one of the possible cancer contributors that we can change (along with smoking and drinking habits).

So what dietary choices can you make to help lessen your risk? That's the catch. We don't know all the answers yet, but we suspect we're close to quite a few. In this article, we will look at dietary changes you can make as part of an alternative treatment to possibly lower your risk for cancer.

The Big Picture

Cancer, the number two killer in the United States, isn't a single disease. Cancer is an umbrella term for more than 200 different conditions, which all have in common the out-of-control growth of cells.

Each type of cancer is unique, with its own set of triggers and treatments. Proving a dietary link to cancer is not easy. Although the connection to some types of cancer seems more solid, some suspected ties are merely educated guesses based on statistics from epidemiology. Epidemiology is a branch of science that observes and compares the rates of diseases in different environments and situations. Actual clinical trials that put theories to the ultimate test are expensive and difficult to design, and they cannot provide valid results for decades, because cancer takes that long to develop.

For years, scientists focused on specific substances in foods that might cause cancer. At first, suspicions centered around manmade creations, such as additives, artificial sweeteners, and pesticides. Then researchers refocused their attention on the many natural toxins in foods that were potentially cancerous, such as aflatoxins in peanuts and solanine in potatoes.

Today, the dietary fight against cancer has progressed further still. These days, when we talk about taking dietary steps to prevent cancer, we're talking about being proactive. Today's preventive strategies go beyond simply avoiding potentially cancer-causing substances in certain foods to actually using diet to strengthen the body's defenses against cancer and toxic substances. Indeed, there's more and more evidence that what you do eat can actually offer protection against, and therefore lower your chances of developing, cancer. Food has gone from enemy to ally. What's more, a diet that may help protect against cancer appears remarkably similar to a diet that is heart healthy and weight wise as well.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

Much of the cancer-protective promise of certain foods appears to stem from antioxidant nutrients concentrated in those foods. An antioxidant is a substance that protects the body's cells from oxidation, the chemical process in which oxygen molecules attach to almost anything in their path, creating destructive compounds called free radicals. Free radicals aren't foreign invaders. They are normal inhabitants of your body, produced in response to everyday chemical reactions that normally occur in your body.

Your body has a built-in protection mechanism and can, to some extent, guard itself against the damaging chain reactions that free radicals set off. But sometimes free radicals get out of control, outpacing the body's natural repair system, such as when too many are produced in response to cigarette smoke, ultraviolet light, and environmental pollutants including smog, car exhaust, and ozone. Left unchecked, they run amok, causing damage and altering the genetic makeup of the normal cells in your body. This type of genetic alteration can pave the way for cancer.

You can see evidence of simple oxidation when a car rusts, when butter turns rancid, and when a cut apple turns brown. But dip an apple in lemon juice immediately after you cut it and -- voilà! -- it remains white. Why? The vitamin C in the lemon juice is an antioxidant, and it protects the apple from oxidation. In essence, the same thing happens in your body, on a grander scale. Free radicals are thought to cause damage that may lead not only to cancer but to other conditions that become more common with age (and therefore with greater free-radical exposure), such as heart disease and cataracts. So there is hope that antioxidants from the diet can help protect against that damage and help prevent or at least delay such conditions by neutralizing free radicals.

Only certain vitamins and minerals have antioxidant properties. Three vitamins have received the most attention: vitamin A (in its beta-carotene form), vitamin C, and vitamin E. The trace mineral selenium also plays a role in the antioxidant drama, not as an antioxidant itself but as an element of an antioxidant. Riboflavin, which is one of the B vitamins, and magnesium have also been recognized as having some antioxidant properties.

In the next section, we will look at foods that help boost immunity as well as food items that are emerging as valuable weapons in the fight against cancer.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Benefits of Certain Foods

While scientists often seek to identify the precise nutrients and substances that might be responsible for preventing or promoting cancer, we eat foods, not just nutrients. For this reason, groups such as the National Cancer Institute and AICR provide guidelines for an overall healthy, cancer-protective diet.

It is most realistic and practical -- not to mention more enjoyable and economical -- to focus on eating more of the foods that contain potentially beneficial substances, namely fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, than on downing individual nutrients or chemicals. Besides, much of the earliest evidence suggesting foods might help protect against cancer came from observing the typical diets of select populations in which the incidence of certain cancers was much lower than in the general population. Attempts to tease out specific nutrients that might be responsible for the protection have not been successful.

When the benefits are linked to a diet made up of whole foods, it is often difficult to say for certain that the protective effects were caused by one specific nutrient rather than by the interplay of all the potentially helpful substances (sometimes called phytochemicals) that are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The recommendations, therefore, encourage the consumption of the whole foods rather than the single nutrients so that people don't miss out on these other potentially beneficial substances (some of which scientists may not even have identified yet).

We will review what we know so far, what we suspect, and what we don't know about some of the foods and nutrients that may help protect against cancer and those that may promote cancer. With this knowledge, you can create a diverse diet that includes more foods that may help to protect you and your family.

Foods With Emerging Promise

Compelling evidence is accumulating for the anticancer properties of more foods and food components. For example, the antioxidants in tea, called catechins, may inhibit the growth of cancerous cells. Green tea contains more of these antioxidants than black tea, possibly because it is subject to less processing. One catch: To release about 80 percent of its catechins, you must steep your tea for about five minutes.

Red wine is rich in phytochemicals, particularly compounds called polyphenols, which include catechins and resveratrol. These anticancer antioxidant compounds are found in the skin and seeds of grapes. And garlic contains organic allyl sulfur compounds that seem to help slow or prevent the growth of tumor cells.

We know vitamins are beneficial in the fight against cancer, and we will review which ones and how in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Benefits of Vitamin A

To help stack your deck against cancer, consider stocking your diet with more of the foods listed in this section. Don't just add them to what you're already eating, though, unless you're trying to gain weight. Cut back on fatty foods, sugary foods that don't provide many nutrients, and other foods discussed later in this article. Instead, replace them with more foods filled with the potential cancer fighters such as the vitamins discussed below.

Beta-Carotene: Bad News and Good News

For a short time, beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, was a star among supplements. There was good reason, too -- solid research suggested that beta-carotene could lower cancer risk. 

Vitamin manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and began replacing all the vitamin A in their pills with beta-carotene, until results from a study called CARET (Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial) brought things to a screeching halt. This landmark study, published in 1996, tested synthetic beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements in people at high risk for lung cancer -- smokers, former smokers, and asbestos-industry workers. The study was quickly discontinued when it became clear that those taking beta-carotene supplements (about 30 milligrams a day) actually had a higher rate of lung cancer and higher mortality rate than those taking a placebo (an inert pill).

Nevertheless, beta-carotene's action as an antioxidant can significantly slow or prevent oxidative damage in the body that can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including oral cancers and tumors of the stomach, breast, cervix, uterus, prostate, and colon.

Because vitamin A can be toxic in large doses, the emphasis is on getting it from fruits and vegetables, where it is primarily found in the form of beta-carotene, and not from supplements of vitamin A.

Other carotenoids, especially lutein and lycopene, may be protective, too, but they have not been studied as well, and information on their content in foods is somewhat limited.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Benefits of Vitamins C and E

Vitamin C Vindicated

Researchers are still arguing over vitamin C and colds. But vitamin C may offer protection against lots of other conditions, including cancer.

A diet high in vitamin C has been strongly linked to a lower risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, stomach, and pancreas. Weaker data exist for cancers of the breast, cervix, and rectum. However, it's hard to separate the effects of vitamin C from those of beta-carotene, because many fruits and vegetables are rich in both. 

In fact, studies show it may be the combination of the two that's important, which is yet another reason to get your antioxidants from foods rather than supplements whenever possible. Indeed, the few studies in which vitamin C was provided by supplement have not shown any cancer-fighting benefits.

Optimism Over E

Research appears to support vitamin E's contribution to cutting the risk of some types of cancers. The evidence is strongest for prostate cancer, where vitamin E, along with selenium, seems to offer protection. Other links include a possible reduction in the risk of cancers of the stomach and lung and perhaps of the bladder, colon, and rectum.

But vitamin E is unique. While its merit as an antioxidant is accepted by many scientists, it only appears to be of value when consumed in amounts far greater than what you can get from foods. Because vitamin E is fat soluble, the foods richest in it tend to be high in fat -- such as vegetable oils, sunflower seeds, nuts, and wheat germ -- so it's not a very practical nutrient to seek out in large amounts in the diet. Otherwise, you may find yourself overloading on calories.

What to do? As a start, be sure to eat lots of whole grains, fortified cereals, leafy greens, and fish to obtain a baseline level of E. To boost your intake into the potentially cancer-fighting range -- about 100 International Units (IU) daily -- without overdosing on fat, however, you would need to add a supplement. (Many studies are conducted using 800 IU, but there's evidence to show you don't need this much to gain benefits.) Although many experts are optimistic about vitamin E's possibilities, they have stopped short of recommending such a supplement until further research is done. Certainly, at this point, if you are considering a vitamin E supplement, discuss it with your health care professional first.

Vitamins aren't the only beneficial assets in preventing cancer. In the next section, we will look at the minerals and fiber that also have certain risk-reducing properties.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Benefits of Minerals and Fiber

Minerals and fiber can both be allies in the fight for cancer prevention. Still, the exact benefits that each brings is up for debate. In this section, we explore the ways in which fiber and minerals can be beneficial.

Selenium's Tight-Rope Act

Selenium is not actually an antioxidant. Rather, it is part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which is part of the body's antioxidant defense system, helping protect it against free radicals. You don't hear as much about selenium, however, because we still don't know that much about it. Preliminary evidence suggests a link between selenium and a reduced risk for cancers of the lung, colon, and prostate.

Getting the right amount is a balancing act that Mother Nature handles fairly well. Selenium is widely available in such foods as grains, lean meat, poultry, and fish. There is a narrow margin, however, between safe and toxic amounts of selenium. So high-dose supplements are a distinctly bad idea.

The Calcium Connection

The evidence supporting this newcomer to the cancer-prevention scene is a bit less conclusive yet still promising. The research suggests calcium plays a role in reducing the risk for colorectal cancer, perhaps by thwarting the ability of cancerous cells to gain a foothold in the lining of the intestines or by binding with them, rendering them benign. Calcium-rich foods seem to offer more protection than calcium supplements.

Many Americans fall short of the recommended daily intake for calcium, which is 1,300 milligrams for teenagers; 1,000 milligrams for adults 19 to 50 years of age; and 1,200 milligrams for adults 51 years of age and older. Amounts of 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams have been linked to an anticancer effect. On the other hand, there is evidence that an intake of more than 2,000 milligrams of calcium per day, primarily from supplements, may increase the risk for prostate cancer.

In light of this, both men and women are best off meeting recommended levels of calcium primarily from food sources (since it's far more difficult to overdose on a vitamin or mineral when you get it from food than when you take supplements). Calcium sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified juice, sardines with bones, salmon, and some leafy green vegetables (bok choy, broccoli, kale, and turnip and collard greens). If you obtain much of your calcium from dairy products, select low-fat or nonfat varieties to help keep your intake of total and saturated fat low. If you take a calcium supplement, consult with a registered dietitian or your doctor to determine how much is appropriate for you to take.

Fiber Fallout

The research on fiber in the prevention of colon cancer is positive, even if the link is somewhat shaky. There are a variety of ways that fiber may protect: by diluting toxins, by altering conditions within the bowel, and by literally getting carcinogens out faster. The numerous variables are what confuse the issue. In fact, as more knowledge of fiber's potential actions has accrued, the link has become less clear.

This may be partly due to the failure of many past studies to separate out the effects of soluble versus insoluble fibers. It's the insoluble type -- as in wheat bran -- that probably provides the most protection. But other studies have also found a protective effect from fruits and vegetables, which are higher in soluble fiber. To confuse matters further, several large studies even found that overall fiber intake does not seem to have any significant effect on lowering colon-cancer risk. Fiber's effect also may depend on whether your diet is high in fat, too.

But don't mistake the forest for the trees. Because fiber is clearly beneficial to many other conditions, it's wise to make sure you are consuming adequate amounts. Furthermore, foods high in fiber are also known to contain other healthful substances that do have protective effects against cancer.

Experts advise aiming for 20 to 35 total grams of fiber each day. Most Americans, however, eat less than half this amount. If your diet is low in fiber, try gradually substituting foods made with whole grains for those made with refined grains, and work up to eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

When you look at how to include more minerals and fiber to your diet, you also need to keep an eye on your fat intake. We will look at the correlation between fat and cancer risk in the next section.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Cancer Risk and Fat

While you're opting for more foods with cancer-fighting properties, you should also keep tabs on your intake of certain foods and other aspects of your overall diet that may actually aid cancer's growth or development and do your best to limit these. Adding potentially helpful foods and losing possible dietary dangers can equal a more cancer-protective diet all around.

Fat is Where It's At

Fat has been found guilty of contributing to the development of a number of diseases, and cancer is no exception. High-fat diets have been linked to an increase in the risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, prostate, and endometrium. At one time, the breast-cancer link was just as strong; however, the prestigious Nurses' Health Study at Harvard refuted this link when researchers found no difference in cancer risk between those eating 50 percent of their calories from fat and those consuming less than 30 percent.

Scientists are unclear, however, about how high-fat diets are involved in cancer risk. It may be the total amount of fat, the type of fat, the calories contributed by fat, some other factor associated with high-fat foods, or a combination of these factors. For example, fats such as the saturated fat in meats, the omega-3 fats in fish, and the monounsaturated fats in olive oil likely differ in their effects on cancer risk. Cooking methods used for higher-fat foods, such as meats, may be a factor. In addition, high-fat diets tend to be high in calories, which often leads to unwanted weight gain.

Overweight and obese individuals are at higher risk for developing several types of cancer.

Even if fat does affect cancer risk, it's not as a cause but rather as a promoter of the disease. That means it enhances the action of true carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke. Experts generally echo the advice given to prevent other chronic diseases -- limit fat intake to less than 30 percent of calories. Consistent with guidelines for lowering heart-disease risk, you are wise to substitute monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, for some of the saturated fats in your diet (check food labels), choose smaller portions of meats, and eat more plant-based foods.

The Calorie Conundrum

It may sound a bit absurd to say calories can cause cancer. After all, you can't stop eating. But research does suggest that an excess of calories is cancer-promoting, while being slightly underweight affords protection. This may even be a crucial part of the fat connection, considering that a gram of fat is higher in calories than a gram of carbohydrate or protein.

Being overweight is associated with higher rates of several types of cancer, including cancers of the breast (among post-menopausal women), colon, endometrium, esophagus, gallbladder, pancreas, and kidney. The best way to achieve a healthy weight is to balance energy taken in (from food calories) with energy expended (through physical activity). In fact, there is strong evidence that getting regular physical activity may reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers, and perhaps other types, as well. Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five or more days each week; 45 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous activity five or more days per week may further reduce breast- and colon-cancer risk.

There are plenty of other foods to avoid if you want to decrease your risk of cancer. In the next ection, we will look at the risks involved when you consume nitrates, mutagens, or alcohol.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Nitrates, Mutagens and Other Cancer Risks

Foods that are high in fat are not the only food items to avoid. Items that contain nitrates, mutagens and alcohol can also be potentially dangerous when it comes to developing cancer. In this section, we will examine the risks that those items present.

Nitrite/Nitrate Alert

There seems to be a connection between processed, smoked, and salt-cured meats and cancer.

One reason is the nitrites -- they are added to many luncheon meats, bacon, ham, and hot dogs to maintain color and to prevent contamination with bacteria. The problem is that nitrites can be converted to carcinogenic nitrosamines in your body. Some studies have linked high intakes of processed meats with colorectal and stomach cancers.

To help counteract this effect, eat these foods along with vitamin-C-containing foods, which can help retard the conversion of nitrites into nitrosamines (the vitamin C must be in the stomach at the same time as the nitrites). Still, it may be good to go easy on processed meats. Meats preserved by smoking or salting also increase your exposure to potentially carcinogenic substances (see Unwelcome Mutagens below), so it's wise to limit these, too.

Some vegetables naturally contain nitrates, substances similar to nitrites. The use of certain fertilizers may increase the amount of nitrates in them, as well. However, many vegetables also come loaded with the built-in protection of vitamin C.

Unfortunately, that's not true for your local water supply, where nitrate contamination from fertilizers can also be a problem. Check with your local water or health department to find out about the nitrate level. If it's high, you might want to look into bottled water.

Unwelcome Mutagens

Mutagens are substances that can set off sudden changes in a cell's genetic makeup, creating potentially cancerous compounds. Whenever you brown food, mutagens may form. The more well-done your meat is, the more mutagens you are likely to consume. Because these mutagens don't form until meat is at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for a significant time, rare or medium-rare meat is not affected.

Any high-temperature cooking method, such as grilling, broiling, and pan-frying, used for meat, poultry, and fish can cause a type of carcinogen called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) to form. Grilling can also carry other risks. Another carcinogen, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), can form when the fat from meats drips onto the coals, tiles, or rocks. The rising smoke and flames can leave PAHs on the surface of the meat.

On the other hand, you must be sure to cook meat well enough to kill microorganisms that can cause potentially deadly food poisoning. So what should you do? Occasional high-heat cooking is no cause for concern. Microwaving, boiling, and baking use lower cooking temperatures, so use these methods more often than the higher-temperature methods. When you cook with higher temperatures, use a meat thermometer. This way, you can gauge when meat is cooked sufficiently on the inside to kill microorganisms and then remove it immediately from the heat to avoid the formation of excess mutagens.

Alcohol Advice

There's no doubt that alcohol contributes to esophageal and oral-cavity cancers. Add cigarette smoke, and the risk sky-rockets. But is there danger only for alcoholics, or should social drinkers also abstain? There have been conflicting data on moderate drinking and breast-cancer risk. It's probably best to follow the advice given for other chronic diseases: If you drink, do so only in moderation.

The foods you eat can make a big difference when it comes to cancer prevention. As was mentioned throughout this article, you should try to eat foods that are high in vitamins and minerals if you want to lower your risk. Foods that are high in fat, nitrates and mutagens increase your cancer risk.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.