Cancer Teaches Us Lessons




Mona K. was 59 years old when she consulted me about breast cancer 8 years ago. After 30 years as an operating room nurse she felt there might be a connection to halothane, a commonly used anesthetic gas. Except for chronic allergic rhinitis and sinusitis she had always enjoyed good health. She was also quite obese, which led to periods of nutrient deficiency after crash diets; but she considered herself in good health until a mammogram revealed the cancer in 1988. She accepted mastectomy, and all of 30 lymph nodes that were removed tested positive for metastatic cancer. Her oncologist was not optimistic, offering a less than 3 in 10 chance at 5-year survival. She opted for nutrient support as an adjunct to her three-month-long course of chemotherapy with tamoxifen, cytoxan, methotrexate and fluorouracil.

Vitamin therapy helped her tolerate the chemotherapy with minimal adverse effects. She developed cravings for fatty foods, such as bacon, which succeeded in reversing her anorexia and weight loss. Odd as it may seem, she thrived on it; but I have seen this same unexpected benefit in other cancer patients, so I don’t regard any food as bad for cancer patients, so long as the patient feels a real craving for the food. On the other hand, Mona also craved mustard and horseradish, perhaps because these contain peroxidases, which are stimulants, including immune stimulation.

And there can be reverse cravings of equal merit: for example, her oncologist prescribed iron supplements; but these caused muscle pain and intestinal cramps so she stopped the therapy. Not a bad idea, since chemotherapy destroys blood cells, which then release their mineral and iron contents into the body fluids. Free iron is always adverse because it provokes platelet aggregation, causing clots that stick to blood vessel walls, thus providing a foothold for metastatic cancer cells. These clots contain growth factors that promote cancer cell growth, and blood vessel growth into the tumor, which feeds the metastases by bringing nourishment to the upstart cancer cells.

Just to give an idea of her laboratory profile: her white blood cell count was only 2400, about half normal, before the start of chemotherapy; and her vitamin A was only 49 mcg per 100 ml, about half the optimum for recovery from major illness. In other words she was not in condition for a good result from chemotherapy. With low vitamin A, she would be thrice penalized: inability to detoxify the chemotherapy agent; inability to generate anti-cancer T cells (NK cells), and inadequate protein synthesis for healing and repair. It is sad that vitamin A is not used routinely in orthodox medicine, since it is a determining factor in the outcome of almost all illnesses.

Her hair zinc was only 87 parts per million, about half the normal level. In addition, her antioxidant enzymes were grossly depleted: glutathione peroxidase was only 3.8 (normally above 4.2) and superoxide dismutase was only 8.1 (normal above 9.4). These results point to deficiency of selenium and copper respectively, confirmed by the effects of copper supplementation, which raised her superoxide dismutase to 13.3, which confirmed that the copper level was sub-optimal to begin with. Her glutathione peroxidase also normalized after giving her selenium, which is the specific mineral activator for this enzyme.

I would have liked to test her hair for fluoride, because fluorine from halothane might be stored there. Fluoride makes up almost a third of the weight of the halothane molecule, to which she was exposed for decades. And halothane can remain stored in the fat tissues of the body (including the breast) for long periods of time. The hair test for fluoride is not available; however I did order a test for organochlorine pesticide residues, and her blood contained a total of almost 50 parts per billion (i.e. 50 billionths of pesticide per gram). This placed her in the uppermost quartile of a hundred of my patients who I had tested, and this group had a four-fold greater incidence of cancer compared to the lowest quartile group.

Consider the fact that it is ‘normal’ for Americans to carry organochlorine up to 500 ppb in our blood. Actually these toxic molecules should be undetectable in the human body and they increase our cancer risk at any dose. DDT has been banned in the United States since 1972; however the by-product, DDE, measured 40 ppb, and PCB measured 7 ppb, about 40 percent above the average but still not abnormally high by official public health standards. Of course, the rules are being re-written as you read these lines, since these molecules are now known to have hormonal activity, similar to estrogen, and thus have been identified as cancer growth promoters, especially for estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. This is a good reason why it is more important than ever for women to have a regular intake of food and herbal estrogens, the so-called phyto-sterols, which block the effects of the toxic environmental pseudo-estrogens.

After three months to build up her vitamin levels and encourage recovery from the stress of the chemotherapy, I treated her with mineral oil and flax powder daily for a month to bind some of the fat-soluble organochlorines and hasten their exit from her body. On repeat testing after 60 days the PCB was no longer detectable! And the DDE had dropped almost 50% to only 26.1 ppb. These toxics are known to deplete the liver of vitamin A, so it was reassuring to find, after the initial vitamin treatment, that her vitamin A increased to a robust 116 mcg per 100 ml of blood and her white cell count increased to 3600 per ml.

She was feeling well and increasingly confident and did not return for several months. Then a surprise complication brought her back: ankle edema. After three days of increasing fluid in her feet and legs, to the knees, she feared that her cancer had spread to the liver. I was worried too, I will admit, but by careful questioning, it became clear that she had binged on homemade apple bread in these same three days, consuming 2 loaves all by herself in that time! That amounts to almost a pound of carbohydrate per day and I knew from experience that carbohydrate excess causes fluid retention. I advised her to cut out all sweets and starches for a few days and the result was spectacular: her edema began to resolve in just four hours and was all cleared in a day!

Did I say spectacular? Must have been, for I didn’t hear from Mona again for 5 years! And she was well all this time. But in January 1995 she came back because of pain in her shoulder, a symptom that had persisted since she fell from a ladder and fractured her clavicle and 3 ribs over a year before. She had stopped taking the anti-estrogen drug, Tamoxifen about the time of the injury, due to vaginal bleeding and blurred vision. And she had also stopped taking vitamins in July 1994.

She had somehow gotten the idea that the vitamins made her shoulder pain worse! Yet she readily admitted that she was also having more trouble with chronic sinusitis and bronchitis and felt less well without the nutrient support. I was very concerned by her haggard, unhealthy appearance and, expecting the worst, ordered a laboratory update. It came out better than expected: her blood count was only marginally anemic and the urinalysis showed only a few mucus casts and epithelial cells. Her fasting blood sugar was 120 mg (optimal is 80-110) and this suggested a degree of insulin resistance, compensatory increase of blood insulin and cancer-promoting activity due to insulin-like growth factor.

Concerned about the prospects of cancer relapse, I ordered an AMAS test, the Anti-Malignan Antibody in serum. The result, 34 units, at first glance seemed within the normal range but my relief gave way to some concern that, for when AMAS is under 50 units and the patient has a known cancer, experience teaches that one must suspect immune system incompetency and a terminal condition. Here was my patient: ill for over 3 months with sinus infections, cough, herpes lesions and a sore tongue—all signs of immune weakness. I prescribed a substantial immune-supportive regimen, which she did maintain for a time; however six months later her friends called me with bad news: cancer had spread into her lungs and spine. Her oncologist had treated her with the herbal drug, Taxol, but it failed to resolve the life-threatening fluid build-up in her lungs and it also lowered her white blood cells to about half normal, an obvious disadvantage considering that her own immune defenses were her most likely ally. She was now so short of breath she could barely talk, even on oxygen.

Seeking a miracle, her friends begged me to design a nutrient program, one that she could follow, though bed-ridden, unable to speak, and barely able to eat. She then tried potassium iodide and also DMSO, but only for a short while due to nausea. Luckily she had a positive benefit from the use of industrial strength magnet over the site of her shoulder pain. “The magnet is great. Shoulder and neck pain cleared!” And then a miracle did happen: she began to respond to last-ditch chemotherapy with adriamycin. Six weekly injections were associated with reduction in lung fluid, which had been accumulating at the rate of 2 liters per week. It is plausible that her vitamin regimen, high in coenzyme Q 10 was synergistic with the chemotherapy. There is good research evidence that the supplemental coenzyme Q protects the heart muscle cells from being damaged by the adriamycin. Following that therapy, she was maintained on a second chemotherapy regimen, the anti-folic acid drug, methotrexate for a few months. It is now a year later and she remains well—well enough to work as a nurse for the past three months. She was able to travel to the Midwest by bus to visit friends and family on vacation. She is more than holding her own.

By ordinary standards she qualifies as a cancer treatment success, having survived for eight years with metastatic breast cancer. But her death-defying course is typical of too many successfully treated cancer patients, who regain their health and then stop the nutrient therapy. I have seen this behavior in four patients, two of which had lived with cancer for over 15 years. Even in these long-term remissions, when the patients neglect their health regimens, within six months they relapse. I have seen some patients relapse and recover up to three times from the same cancer!

Mona had sustained a serious fall and multiple fractures before her cancer relapse. Fracture of long bones often releases particles of marrow into the blood stream and usually some of this material ends up in the lungs. Large amounts of marrow can actually cause death due to pulmonary embolism, so-called fat embolism. But even small amounts contain cytokine immune hormones and growth factors that promote clots and metastases. I have another case in mind with the same scenario: fractured bone followed within a few months by metastatic cancer growths in the lungs. This is a profound lesson, one that leads me to wonder whether preventive treatment with anti-coagulants and retinoids for a few weeks after a fracture might be a good idea in any known cancer patient.

Mona’s experience is a hopeful lesson: that even if you are afflicted with cancer, you can still live a long and healthy life; but you must not let your defenses down in case of trauma, nutrient deficiency or toxic exposures. These are the obvious warning signs to take some of the positive steps that I have alluded to here. Fortunately, cancer follow-up is much enhanced by use of AMAS and NK activity tests, but their reliability has only become evident after 5 years of clinical observation and ongoing research, so they are not widely known yet. AMAS has an accuracy of over 90 percent in detecting cancer growth. NK Activity measures the efficiency with which NK Cells destroy cancer. These tests make it possible to diagnose cancer earlier, before it is even visible or palpable, and to adjust treatment in relation to both tumor growth and immune response, thus to guide the therapy.

Most encouraging is the fact that cancer and nutrition research and therapy are finally coming together. Nutrition-physicians have advocated this for many years; but the academic researchers are now joining in. An abstract by Drs. K. N. Prasad and colleagues at the University of Colorado, published in the October, 1996 Journal of the American College of Nutrition (abstract 79, page 535-6) concludes: “The use of one or two vitamins at doses currently used in cancer prevention trials may be ineffective or even harmful. Therefore, a new protocol using multiple vitamins at appropriate doses should be developed for cancer prevention and treatment trials.” These researchers had observed experimentally that a mixture of 4 vitamins, which failed to inhibit cancer growth when taken separately, markedly inhibited growth of cancer cells when administered all together.

In Mona’s case, the combination of nutrient support, magnetic therapy and chemotherapy came as close to a miracle cure as anything I have seen or heard of in my forty-five years in medicine. If Mona had felt more hopeful, perhaps we wouldn’t have lost those important months of follow-up and she might have been spared the ordeal of her near-fatal relapse. Certainly, there is no need to feel helpless about cancer with these and other tools and treatments that are now available. The evidence is now credible: cancer treatment is much enhanced by “putting nutrition first.”

©2007 Richard A. Kunin, M.D.