Cancer's Stark Realities
By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.www.drfuhrman.com
Research Shows That We Are Losing The War Against Cancer!
We live in an era where the majority of Americans think that diseases strike us because of either misfortune, genetics, or unknown factors beyond our control. When serious disease “strikes,” we run to doctors and expect them to fix us with a pill. Most people have no idea that most diseases—including cancers, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes—are the result of nutritional folly. Because they do not know that adults lived much longer centuries ago, they accept the myth that we are living healthier and longer today.
If we were taught from childhood that the diseases we suffer in the modern world are the tragic consequence of our toxic food environment, we wouldn’t be in today’s disgraceful situation—where people graduate from high school, college, and even graduate school without learning how to protect, preserve, and restore their precious health. With proper health education, we would learn that our bodies are powerfully resistant to disease when nutritional needs are met. Instead, we have become the victims of the high-tech, mass-produced food culture that is fueling a cancer epidemic unrivaled in human history.
Our technologically-advanced society is suffering from the highest rates of cancer ever seen in human history, rates that are also much higher than in less developed parts of the world. Since 1999,cancer has surpassed heart disease and has become the leading cause of age adjusted mortality for Americans younger than 85.
Despite more than a hundred billion dollars in cancer research— invested largely in the development of drug chemotherapy and screening and detection techniques—we have lost the war on cancer. While there has been a slight reduction of cancer-related deaths in the last 25 years, this is largely the result of the decrease in lung cancer deaths that has resulted from a reduction in cigarette smoking during this timeframe. Mortality rates for most cancers have stayed remarkably steady.
Chemotherapy has contributed to the progress made against cancer deaths from fast-growing cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, testicular cancer, and childhood cancers such as osteogenic sarcoma. But for the major cancers affecting most adult Americans, chemotherapy adds less than one year of disease-free life to those treated.
Science Or Profits?
At present, pharmaceutical companies— not independent medical or scientific researchers—control the vast majority of research and clinical trials. We have lost the judgment and rationale of independent experts and now depend on drug companies to honestly report the risks and benefits of drugs they manufacture and sell. This is like asking the fast-food industry to be in charge of our nutritional advice. The medical studies that drug companies pay for and publicize are heavily biased in favor of the drugs they sell.
The economically powerful pharmaceutical industry and the large chemical-food conglomerates wield undue influence on government and the media. Accurate nutritional information is rarely reported because the media cannot produce stories that go against the interests of their advertisers. Instead, the media is quick to report on drug company press releases—self-serving propaganda announcing new anticancer “breakthroughs” that reinforce the myth that we are winning the war against cancer.
Most often, the so-called “benefits” described by drug companies announce improved “response rates,” for example, when tumor burden is lessened. But an improved response rate means little if the patient does not survive longer. And even the cancer industry’s meager definition of survival—living 5 years beyond diagnosis—can be misleading.
If “advances” in chemotherapy result in a higher percentage of people surviving for 5 years than did previously, that can be reported as “progress.” But if most of them still die between years 5 and 10, it hardly can be called a big success, especially if the same number or more people would have survived 10 years or longer without the chemotherapy.
Unless overall survival and quality of life are improved, it matters not if chemotherapy resulted in tumor shrinkage, or if a slight increase is seen in 5-year survival statistics. By using virtually meaningless terms like “response rates” and “disease-free survival,” researchers can report results that make chemotherapy look more effective than it really is. Unless patients do some investigating of their own, they have no way of knowing that the glowingly optimistic results reported in the press—and too often parroted by their doctors—are designed to lead them to chemotherapy even though it is a poor choice for both quality and duration of life.
The false perception that chemotherapy offers significant life-span benefits for cancer sufferers is dramatically juxtaposed by the fact that so many more people die of cancer today than they did years ago. In fact, a Swedish study showed that the risk of developing cancer and dying of it was three times higher in people born in the 1950s compared with those born in the 1880s. Since 1958, cancer has increased 55 percent in men and only slightly less in women.1
Does Chemotherapy Work?
Let’s see how effective chemotherapy actually is with a few common cancers.
• A meta-analysis of chemotherapy for postmenopausal, estrogen receptor-positive women (the largest group of women with breast cancer) pooled the six largest studies to get the most accurate data on survival and complications. Here is what researchers concluded about the group treated with standard chemotherapy: “No significant survival benefit was observed.”2
• In non-small cell lung cancer (the most common type), the 5- year survival is only about 10 percent. In stage 4, when the cancer has spread to distant sites, the 5-year survival is only 1.6 percent. After looking at multiple studies, it appears that treatment generally results in a very slight improved survival rate at 1 year, but this advantage disappeared at 30 months of follow- up.3
• Even in small cell lung cancer where chemotherapy has proven effectiveness in life extension, the benefit adds only a few months of life, not years. And during this time the patient can experience serious—even life threatening— side effects from the treatment.
What Should You Do?
If you have cancer and are considering chemotherapy, it is wise to do a Med-Line search on all of the studies done on the recommended therapy, so an informed decision can be made. If this were done, most patients likely would refuse chemotherapy. Doctors generally hide and distort the realities of chemotherapy, talking to patients about “shrinking the cancer” and “killing cancer cells,” not mentioning the fact that the therapy has not been shown to extend life.
Every patient has to make her own decision. But if I were a woman with postmenopausal breast cancer, I would opt for surgery, without radiation and without chemotherapy, and would then pursue an aggressive nutritional protocol. I also would include antiestrogens if the tumor histology showed it to be estrogen receptor- positive.
War Against Good Nutrition
While the “war against cancer” is being fought with the wet noodle of chemotherapy, we are observing a significant increase in some cancers, such as malignant melanoma, multiple myeloma, and prostate cancer. Our population is heavier and as cancer-prone as ever. While we are pouring billions of dollars into drug companies and cancer centers, millions of people continue to die from what should be a preventable disease. Almost nothing has been done to teach people about the power of nutritional excellence to protect against cancer.
In fact, the media regularly reports that nutrition does not affect cancer. For example, a recent New York Times (G. Kolata, September 27,2005,“Science Times”) article reported that diet had only a “hypothetical” relationship with cancer. This ludicrous pronouncement was based on studies that showed that perimenopausal women who eat less fat still have high cancer rates. The Times evidently does not understand that modestly reducing fat and eating more chicken and pasta is not an anti-cancer program.
We are losing the war on cancer, and our government policies are actually worsening the problem. With all of the recent advances in science pointing to phytonutrient deficiency as the major cause of cancer, our efforts should focus on prevention— educating the public about proper diet and nutrition. Millions of lives can be saved. We also can eliminate the tragic consequences and family trauma of living with cancer—diagnoses, surgeries, radiation, chemotherapies, suffering, and premature death, which come from the cancer and very often from the treatment.
Your body is a self-repairing and self-healing machine. Human cells have all the features necessary to protect themselves from chemical damage to their DNA that eventually results in carcinogenic changes. A cancer cell is essentially a normal cell whose DNA has been damaged to the point that it can no longer control its replication.
The process that is creating our modern epidemic of cancer is twofold. One aspect involves the exposure of our cells to damaging stresses such as chemical carcinogens, radon, acrylamides, and high levels of saturated and trans fats and animal protein. At the same time, we have a woefully insufficient dietary intake of plant-derived nutrients, which renders our cells incapable of functioning to their fullest potential for repair and maintenance. Our cells have built-in, powerful mechanisms to remove or destroy toxic substances, inhibit DNA damage, repair broken DNA cross-links, and remove cells that are injured or abnormal before they become cancerous.
In recent years, the term phytochemicals has been used to refer to the thousands of newly-discovered nutrients supplied by plants that— in addition to vitamins and minerals— are necessary for maximal immune system protection and for the promotion of cellular detoxification and repair. Most of our knowledge about what constitutes the optimal cancer prevention diet comes from both human population (epidemiological) studies and animal studies. Populations that have a high intake of natural, unrefined plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and beans always have a low incidence of cancer, proportional to the intake of these phytochemcal-rich plant foods.
Even though other factors such as chemicals, pollution, and smoking play a role in cancer etiology, the scientific literature still illustrates that a better diet offers dramatic protection even against non-dietary cancer promoters. For example, the Fiji Islands (where smoking rates are high) still has a dramatically lower incidence of lung cancer than Hawaii (where smoking rates are lower). This protection against lung cancer even in heavily smoking Fiji Islanders was shown to be the result of the high intake of green vegetables in Fiji.4
Examining data from numerous epidemiological studies, the World Cancer Research Fund concluded that the evidence that fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of oral, esophageal, lung, stomach, colon, pancreatic, bladder, and breast cancer was convincing. No single substance in a plant-based diet accounts for this relationship; rather, it is the synergistic effect of multiple phytochemical compounds (which number in the thousands).
The National Cancer Institute recommends eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. However, scientific studies suggest that more is better and that much, much more is much, much better at reducing cancer risk. It is a national disgrace that very few Americans follow this very minimal recommendation to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
While fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients, the consumption of vegetables is more helpful in reducing cancer because they contain much higher amounts of cancer-protective compounds— especially green vegetables. Among these green vegetables, the cruciferous family has demonstrated the most dramatic protection against cancer. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, collards, arugala, watercress, and cabbage) contain a symphony of phytonutrients with potent anti-cancer effects.
Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are perhaps the best studied, have been shown to provide protection against environmental carcinogen exposure by inducing detoxification pathways, thereby neutralizing potential carcinogens. These vegetables also contain indole-3- carbinol (I3C). Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing estrogen activity.
Important recent studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables and the compounds they contain can do the following:
- halt the growth of breast cancer cells;5
- dramatically reduce the risk of colon cancer;6
- prevent the replication of prostate cancer cells and induce death of cancerous cells;7
- inhibit the progression of lung cancer.8
What makes these studies even more fascinating is the discovery of the gene/diet interaction, which has shown that high intake of greens and cruciferous vegetables provides the food factors necessary to interact with—and prevent— genetic defects from creating disease. This gene/diet interaction activates a battery of many genes, initiating DNA repair and other protection mechanisms.
These cellular repair and detoxification mechanisms are most powerfully induced by eating a mixture of both raw and cooked cruciferous plant foods. Some of the compounds are water soluble and heat stable, and absorption is increased when cooked, for example, in a soup. Other critical ITCs are heat sensitive and are better transmitted in the raw form.
Carotenoids & Polyphenols
Population studies show an association between high dietary intake of carotenoid-containing fruits and vegetables and reduced risk of prostate, breast, and head and neck cancers. A high dietary intake of fruits and vegetables provides a spectrum of carotenoids, including alphacarotene, gamma-carotene, betacryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, and lycopene.
Vegetable juices (carrot, tomato, spinach, and other greens) represent a particularly potent form of carotenoids. Scientists have demonstrated that drinking carrot juice significantly reduces free radical damage to genes. Tomato juice and cooked tomatoes rich in lycopene and other potent antioxidants help reduce the oxidation of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and also have been shown to dramatically help protect against cancer. Carotenoid-rich extracts of carrots and tomatoes have been shown to substantially inhibit the early stages of liver cancer in animals.
Fruits also contain various key phytochemicals. For example, resveratrol, found in grapes, has been reported to exert a variety of anticancer effects. Studies have demonstrated that resveratrol causes growth inhibition of human colon and breast cancer cells. Ellagic acid, found in strawberries, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries, is another polyphenol that has demonstrated anticarcinogenic potential in animal studies.
1. Adami HO, Bergstrom R, Sparen P, Baron J. Increasing cancer risk in younger birth cohorts in Sweden, Lancet 1993 Mar 27;341(8848):773-777.
2. Hartman AR, Fleming GF, Dillon JJ. Metaanalysis of adjuvant cyclophosphamide/methotrexate/ 5-fluorouracil chemotherapy in postmenopausal women with estrogen receptor-positive, node-positive breast cancer. Clin Breast Cancer 2001;2(2):138-143.
3. Blackhall FH, Bhosle J, Thatcher N. Chemotherapy for advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients with performance status 2. Curr Opin Oncol 2005 Mar;17(2):135-9.
4. Le Marchand L, Hankin JH, Bach F, et al. An ecological study of diet and lung cancer in the South Pacific. Int J Cancer 1995 Sep 27; 3(1):18-23.
5. Johnston N. Sulforaphane halts breast cancer cell growth. Drug Discov Today 2004;9(21): 908. Rose P, Huang Q, Ong CN, Whiteman M. Broccoli and watercress suppress matrix metalloproteinase- 9 activity and invasiveness of human MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2005;S0041-008X.
6. Seow A, Yuan JM, Sun CL, et al. Dietary isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase polymorphisms and colorectal cancer risk in the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Carcinogenesis 2002;23(12): 2055-261.
7. Wu HT, Lin SH, Chen YH. Inhibition of cell proliferation and in vitro markers of angiogenesis by indole-3-carbinol, a major indole metabolite present in cruciferous vegetables. J Agric Food Chem 2005:53(13):5164-5169. Singh SV, Srivastava SK, Choi S, et al. Sulphoraphane-induced cell death in human prostate cancer cells is initiated by reactive oxygen species. J Biol Chem 2005; 280(20):19911-19924. Xiao D, Srivastava SK, Lew KL, et al. Allyl isothiocyanate a constituent of cruciferous vegetables inhibits proliferation of human prostate cancer cells by causing G2/M arrest and inducing apoptosis. Carcinogenesis 2003;24(5):891-897.
8. Conaway CC, Wang CX, Pittman B, et al. Phenethyl isothiocyanate and sulforaphane and their n-acetylcysteine conjugates inhibit malignant progression of lung adenomas induced by tobacco carcinogens in A/J mice. Cancer Res 2005;65(18): 8548-8557.