In India, out of two women with breast cancer, one will die within five years. Many of these lives can be saved by detecting cancer early. If cancer is detected in stage 1 when localized to the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. If detected in stage 3 or 4 when it has spread to other parts of the body and organs, the five-year survival rate drops to 22%. In India, most cases are detected at stage 3 or 4.
Cancer is endogenous, part of the process that creates and ends life. Therefore, it cannot be prevented or cured. But early detection can increase life expectancy and improve quality of life after cancer. For cancer, the saying is not “prevention is the cure”, but “early detection is the cure”.
By 2030, India will have 200,000 cases of breast cancer and 100,000 deaths. Twenty-five years ago, about 30% of patients were under the age of fifty. Today, around 50% are. And 5% of cases concern women under 40.
Experimental and integrative medicine therapies provide better treatment and improve post-cancer quality of life. Alternative therapies are a misnomer. Because medical treatment has no alternative. Food and herbal supplements can be harmful. Let’s see it all.
Experimental cancer treatments
A. Gene therapy: In gene therapy, a nucleic acid drug is given to correct or destroy genetic aberration (cancer) cells. Its advantages are:
* It targets tumor cells and does not affect normal cells.
* It corrects molecular defects and thus delays the progression of cancer.
* It has little toxicity compared to other therapies.
* It is effective against a type of particularly stubborn breast cancer cells and causes them to self-destruct.
* It reduces the risk of cancer recurrence.
* It helps to increase the effectiveness of certain types of chemotherapy.
* It is also used to deliver RNA interference technologies or DNA cancer vaccines.
It is likely to become a popular therapy for breast cancer and other cancers, but at present there are no approved products for breast cancer.
B. Focused ultrasound therapy: High Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) is a new technology that is under investigation. HIFU focuses a high frequency pressure wave on a small target volume. It causes a local temperature rise which induces coagulant necrosis (death) and protein denaturation (structural breakdown) of the target cancer cell within seconds. It is used to treat benign and malignant tumors. Its advantages are:
* It is an early stage non-invasive therapeutic technology and therefore has less risk of infection and blood clots and has the potential for shorter recovery time.
* It can be targeted with precision and thus minimizes damage to healthy non-target tissue.
* It has no ionizing radiation and therefore can be used repeatedly.
* It can be used alone or in addition to a drug treatment allowing better administration of chemotherapy or immunotherapy to tumors.
* It can induce an anti-tumor immune response.
* It can improve the quality of life and decrease the cost of care for patients.
Integrative medicine is a combination of medical treatments and complementary therapies. These do not treat cancer but can help cope with the signs and symptoms – such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, sleep disturbances and stress – caused by cancer and cancer treatments.
A. Complementary therapies
Types of complementary therapies that can improve well-being include hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music therapy, tai chi, chiropractic, reflexology, Reiki, therapeutic touch, biofeedback, imagery (Imagine scenes, images or experiences), creative outlets (art, music or dance).
It also includes vitamins and dietary supplements, botanicals, which are plants or parts of plants (for example, cannabis), herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon, and special foods or diets. .
Most complementary therapies are safe and effective.
B. Useful supplements
Clinical trials show that certain herbs and nutritional supplements help manage specific side effects of cancer treatment. For example, American ginseng and astragalus root used in traditional Chinese medicine can help reduce some side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue. Nutritional supplements like glutamine, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and omega-3s can help treat peripheral neuropathy. However, these supplements are not suitable for everyone and more research is needed to confirm their safety and effectiveness.
C. Alternative therapies
Alternative therapies are sometimes suggested as an alternative to medical treatment. These therapies claim that cancer can be treated by taking certain herbs or supplements, or certain foods, and avoiding certain foods. But these therapies are refuted or unproven. They do not treat cancer and are often harmful. Because they don’t stop the growth of cancer. It can therefore worsen and thus reduce the treatment options due to the severity of the cancer.
The claim that these therapies are natural and therefore safe is wrong. The natural is not necessarily without danger. Poisonous mushrooms are natural, but not harmless. Herbal supplements can be harmful when taken alone, with other substances, or in high doses. For example, kava kava, an herb used to combat stress and anxiety, can damage the liver. And St. John, used for depression, may cause some cancer drugs to not work as well as they should.
D. Food supplements
People take diet or herbal products to improve their health, to get additional nutrition, to strengthen the immune system, or to treat side effects. Dietetic products are vitamin and mineral products. Herbal, botanical and other “natural” products may contain plants or parts of plants, algae or fungi, or animal extracts, such as toad or snake venom.
Not all supplements are safe or effective, especially during cancer treatment. For example, supplements like garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and vitamin E can increase the risk of bleeding. It could be dangerous for patients undergoing or recovering from surgery. Supplements can also interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications. They can also be dangerous for specific health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health issues, heart disease, or blood clotting issues.
E. Side Effects of Supplements
* Supplements can cause serious side effects, including:
* High blood pressure
* Diet or herbal products do not treat cancer.
* Herbs can interact with chemotherapy and other drug treatments.
* Antioxidant supplements may make cancer treatments less effective.
Complementary and alternative cancer therapies do not treat cancer. But they can alleviate the signs and symptoms – such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, sleep disturbances, and stress – caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques, yoga, acupuncture, aromatherapy, music therapy, and tai chi, alone or in combination, can be beneficial.
But many alternative cancer treatments are disproved or unproven, and some can even be dangerous.
Treatment of cancer in other systems of medicine
Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Yoga, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Chinese Medicine also have cancer treatment. But these are not proven. Although some of them can help cope with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.
“The only person who can save you is you” – Sheryl Crow
Cancer is a 3,200-year-old disease. It is endogenous, part of the process of life. Thus, it cannot be eradicated, prevented or cured. Still.
Late detection of cancer is fatal. There are many causes of late detection, but lack of awareness is the main cause. Other main causes are patient shyness, social stigma and the ignorance of doctors who delay treatment. An awareness program will address all of these issues.
If you loved your life before cancer, don’t be afraid of life after cancer. You will find beauty again. “I loved the stars too much to be afraid of the night.” – Galileo.
Will a radical discovery in the future prevent and cure cancer? We do not know. But we can always hope.
Because, as Richard Causer, Director of NCI, USA, says of the future of cancer healing, “There are many more good historians than prophets.”
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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