Immunotherapy working against cancer


I just read this article and see that boosting the immune system is working against cancer. It appears we are finally making headway with the idea that boosting the immune system will kill cancer. And I think this is a great thing. But I am a bit pissed off about the way it is being handled. I am going to cover quite a few topics, and this one may ramble a bit, but I think it is very important to have these conversations.

Background

For those who are not aware, my daughter Miranda (now 5) was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare childhood cancer, in September of 2007. We opted for standard treatment. Ewing’s has about 250 victims each year, most boys between the age of 10 and 19. Miranda had an Askin’s tumor, which is a soft tissue form of Ewing’s, which normally appears in the bone. Her form of Ewing’s only hits about 25 people per year.

During our treatment, we opted for a few complementary treatments. Examples:

  1. During her first chemo round, Miranda had horrible mucositis. As an example, she would vomit up ulcers that looked like giant spiders and had a sore that almost completely covered her tongue. We did some research and supplemented her with L-Glutamine and saw few mucositis symptoms for the rest of her treatment.
  2. Miranda had two bouts with C-Diff early on in her treatment. C-Diff (Clostridium Difficile) is an infection of the gut that appears in people whose immune systems have been compromised. When you poison your body with chemo, and pound it with antibiotics to stop infections, you get this infection. C. Diff is a weak bacteria, but it is also very opportunistic. Antibiotics that kill other gut flora do not kill C. Diff, so you end up with an infection that requires even stronger antibiotics. We supplemented her with probiotics. In general, we used Kefir, but also used pills when we were having a problem with Kefir causing vomiting. After we started supplementation, we had no further C. Diff infections.

This is not science, however, as a case study of one is anecdotal. I will get back to this in the next section.

The Daniel Hauser Case

If you are not aware, Daniel Hauser is the child who is being forced to take chemo. Daniel was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and completed one round of chemo. Then he and his parents decided they wanted to try alternative methods. Child services stepped in and got a court to force chemo on Daniel, so he and his mother fled, with a desire to go to Mexico for alternative treatments.

I am a bit torn on this one, as I would personally opt for conventional treatments, as Hodgkins is very survivable using them. But, I think they should have the option of choosing their medical care. What ticks me off is the media’s statements that Daniel has a 95% chance of survival with chemo and a 5% chance of survival with alternative treatments. I am not arguing the 95% number, as that stat is correct. I am arguing against the 5% number, however, as they have no freaking clue what the true percentage is. I will get back to this after the next section.

The family was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Here is the matrix:

Conventional Treatment (chemo)

  • Daniel lives – right decision was made. Science proven right.
  • Daniel dies – One of the unlucky ones. Delay in treatment made cancer uncurable.

Alternative Treatment

  • Daniel lives – Fluke. Might have been his one chemo treatment that helped his body get control of the cancer.
  • Daniel dies – Parents are murderers

Now, let’s look at alternative treatments.

Science and Alternative Treatments

For the most part alternative treatments are not scientifically tested. There are numerous reasons for this, some of which are iterated below:

  1. Food cannot be patented. Until you can artificially create the ingredients, you cannot patent the nutrient as a drug. This is why scientists are working hard to artificially create things like DAS, DADS and DATS (nutrients found in garlic) and Resveratrol (a polyphenol in red grape skins and other sources). The nutrients in both have shown promise in cancer (garlic against glioblastoma and Resveratrol against a wide variety of cancers).
  2. The drug companies dictate much of the research. In addition to research they conduct, the drug companies lobby for other funding.
  3. The medical establishment is convinced drugs cure, not food. This comes from a lack of nutritional education amongst other things.
  4. There is a overall feeling in the scientific community that alternative treatments are quackery.

Let’s examine garlic for a moment. The glio link with cancer was found a few years ago. Doing research, I found research as early as the 1980s on the chemical pathways for garlic fighting cancer. I believe it was missed due to the prejudice against alternative treatments. In science, garlic is largely being tested only for heart disease, and this is primarily due to years of evidence that people eating more garlic have less incidence of heart disease.

The glio link was published in 2007, but did not get much traction in the media until this year. It was an in vitro study (testtube) and there is no definitive proof it will work in vivo (in the body). I have found no evidence of studies in mice yet, but there may be some going on. There are no human trials with garlic yet. I would imagine it will be years, if not decades, before there are any. One problem with garlic against glio is the DAS, DADS, and especially DATS may not cross the blood-brain barrier. But, one of the newer treatments for operable glio is to introduce a chemo wafer after the tumor is removed. Why could we not make a garlic wafer and do the same thing? There is an issue with garlic causing bleeding, but I am sure that can be overcome if someone would do the research. My theory is they want to be able to patent artificially DAS, DADS and DATS before they attempt to trial garlic as a treatment for glio. If it is eventually used, and is successful, the lives of so many would have been lost looking for a profit motive.

Please note that I am not taking potshots at the scientific community. There are many hurdles to research, including legal battles (both lawsuits and the FDA). I believe, however, that the patient, who has an almost certain death sentence, should be able to decide. As you cannot go to an alternative treatment center for brain surgery, the option is not available elsewhere.

5% chance of survival

Back to Daniel for a bit. Where did they get the 5% number? The best I can figure, if not just pulled out of thin air, they are using stats on people that survive in alternative treatment centers. The problem with this number is most people only try alternatives after the doctors tell them there is nothing more they can do. This is after years of chemo (aka poisoning) and/or radiation (also poisoning). That 5% survive after their bodies have been so abused is a promising number, if you ask me. What would the percentage be if people went alternative from the start?

There might be a clue in people like Michael Gearin-Tosh and David Servan-Schreiber. Geran-Tosh was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1992, a cancer with a rather short median survival. Gearin-Tosh refused chemo and went to radical alternative treatments. he finally died in 2004, but not from cancer. Servan-Schreiber was diagnosed with a deadly brain cancer. He went conventional, but eventually radically altered his diet and environment and took efforts to control his stress. he is still alive today, despite a low median survival for his form of cancer.

Both of these men are anecdotal evidence, however, as two do not make a scientifically significant case for the success of alternative treatment. You can read their stories in the books Living Proof (Gearin-Tosh) and Anticancer (Servan-Schreiber).

What is Cancer? How is it Caused?

The truth is we do not completely know the answers to these questions. We do know they are human cells that are out of control that have been genetically altered to avoid the normal cell death pattern. We also know that cancer has the ability to “create” its own blood supply, a process known as angiogenesis.

The current “consensus” is cancer is caused by inflammatory processes out of control. We know that some cancers are caused by viruses or bacteria. For example, many GI cancers are known to start from viral or bacterial infections. They have also found that there is a virus association in glioblastoma cells – the HCMV (Human cytomegalovirus). They are not sure what the link is in glio, but the idea of parasites causing cancer is well established in the alternative treatment community, even if the scientific community accepts it for only some cancers. Then again, the science guys might be right on this one.

There are a couple of things we know (or at least have shown to a high degree of certainty):

  • Carcinogens are instrumental in causing or advancing cancer. This is why you should reduce carcinogens as much as possible in your environment. Some of the easiest ways to do this are stopping tobacco use and reducing heavy grilling of food.
  • Sugar has a part in cancer. The question here is whether sugar is a cause or just a food source. Since the average western diet is high in sugar, avoiding boxed foods and prepared drinks is a good start. Moving to a diet primarily of fruits and veggies is a good step, as well. Reducing sugars will also help with heart disease and diabetes.
  • Acidity has something to do with cancer. The question here is whether or not cancer causes an acidic blood environment or is fed by it. Unfortunately, the alternative “eat alkaline foods” does not appear to have a proper chemical pathway to be a silver bullet in the fight against cancer, except perhaps some GI cancers, which are rare (except colo-rectal cancer) in the industrialized world. Fortunately, veggies are good sources for alkalinity, so following the advice might work, although not for the reason stated on these sites.
  • Inflammation is one key to cancer. We are not sure the exact reason, but we do see cancers appearing where there are injuries. My feelings on one potential reason we are seeing more cancers are we are consuming too many pro-inflammatory foods (meats very high in Omega 6s, sugars, etc.) and few anti-inflammatory foods. Reducing meat consumption and moving to free range meats can help. It is also helpful to find foods high in anti-inflammatory nutrients (like garlic, berries, grapes, etc.), which means moving to a diet higher in vegetables and perhaps some high omega 3 fish. I would go on about this, but this post is long enough.

Given what we “know”, it only makes sense that a change in diet, which many alternative therapies focus on, is a good step in increasing survival during cancer treatment and perhaps preventing cancer.

Immunotherapy

The article that prompted this blog entry was about using therapies to help the immune system to fight cancer. Within the past month, a clinical trial on certain types of antibodies proved so effective in neuroblastoma that the therapy has been approved for use in neuroblastoma patients outside of the study. There were six children in the study that developed allergenic reactions that were very serious, but the survival increase potential outweigh the potential of life threatening allergies.

What if boosting the immune system with proper nutrition works? The problem is we don’t know. And, this is why the media is reporting a 5% survival potential with alternative therapies for Daniel Hauser, despite the fact there is very little science to support that number.

Summary

I am not hacked off with the medical community, per se, but a system that so focuses on pharmaceuticals that it spends precious little money on alternative treatments like food. I do not expect the drug companies to become altruistic on this, as the are businesses. I would, however, like to see more government money spent on determining if alternative therapies hold any promise.

This is a sticky situation, however, for a number of reasons.

  • You have to find patients willing to go the alternative route. With the current poisons showing high numbers, heading to alternatives first is a hard sell. This is not something the doctors can ethically force on patients, as a failure means death.
  • Medical researchers are not going to risk their careers for therapies outside of variations of current therapies or other “drugs”.
  • The government is set up to make it harder to fund alternative studies, due to the ethical considerations. Remember, however, that chemotherapy was once an ethical issue, as well.

One potential way of getting real numbers is to take patients who are out of chemo and trying therapies like immunotherapy and comparing them to those going alternative. This would at least give us some real numbers. If the immunotherapy has a 1% survival after the doctors have “given up” on chemo/radiation due to body loads, then alternatives show promise, even at 5%, as they are four times more effective. This might solve some of the ethical dilemma.

I am not sure how we will solve this. What if alternative therapies, despite some anecdotal evidence, do not work effectively enough to warrant them? Then again, what if they do? If we could use food as a pharmacy, it would change the medical world as we know it. And humans, in general, resist change.

I know this has been a long one, and I thank you for sticking in. For my family, we have greatly altered our lifestyle after my daughter was diagnosed. We have had whole house filtering since long before her diagnosis. But we have gone more to fruits and veggies and eliminated most bagged and boxed foods. The few we do buy are largely organic and we strongly avoid foods with added sugars, especially foods from high omega-6 sources. We do not bring “juices” in the house with any form of added sugars and my children do not drink sodas or kool aid type mixes (including lemonade, gatorade, etc.) in the house, except on very rare occasions. We also have standing “orders” for people outside the home not to give them candy, etc. Is it enough? I don’t know.

One thing I am certain of is people in areas of the world without processed foods see less incidence of the cancers plaguing the industrialized world. They do see more GI cancers, which are caused by infections.

I will write another entry about Immunotherapy at some time, as the science there is fascinating. If you read the book anticancer, you will see some interesting info on how cancer works to make the immune system not see it as an invader, which is part of what they are working on.

Peace and Grace.
Greg

Twitter: @gbworld

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