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In India, out of two women with breast cancer one will die within five years. Many of these lives can be saved by early detection of cancer. If cancer is detected at stage 1 when it is local within the breast, the five-year survival rate is 99%. If it is detected at stage 3 or 4 when it has spread to other body parts and organs, the five-year survival rate falls 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 can be neither prevented nor cured. But early detection can increase life expectancy and improve the post-cancer quality of life. 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% patients were below age fifty. Now, about 50% are. And 5% of cases are in women under 40.

Experimental and Integrative medicine therapies give better treatment and improve the post-cancer quality of life. Alternative therapies are a misnomer. Because medical treatment has no alternatives. Dietary and herbal supplements can be harmful. Let us look at all of these.

Experimental Cancer Treatments

A. Gene Therapy: In gene therapy, a nucleic acid-based drug is delivered to either correct or destroy the genetic aberration (cancer) cells. Its advantages are:

*It targets tumor cells and does not affect normal cells.
*It corrects molecular defects and thus retards the cancer progression.
*It has little toxicity compared to other therapies.
*It is effective to a particularly stubborn type of breast cancer cells and causes them to self-destruct.
*It lowers chance of recurrence of the cancer.
*It helps increase the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy.
*It is also used to deliver RNA interference technologies, or cancer DNA vaccines.

It is likely to become a popular therapy for breast and other cancers but at present does not have approved products for breast cancer.

B. Focused Ultrasound Therapy: High-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) is a novel technology which is being investigated. HIFU focuses a pressure wave with a high frequency on a small target volume. It causes an increase in local temperature which induces coagulative necrosis (death) and protein denaturation (disruption of structure) of the target cancer cell within a few seconds. It is used to treat both benign and malignant tumors. Its advantages are:

*It is an early-stage non-invasive therapeutic technology and therefore has less risk for infection and blood clots and has potential for shorter recovery time.
*It can be targeted precisely and thus minimizes damage to non-targeted healthy tissue.
*It has no ionizing radiation and thus can be used repeatedly.
*It can be used alone, or as a complement to drug therapy enabling enhanced delivery of chemotherapy or immunotherapy to tumors.
*It may induce an anti-tumor immune response.
*It can improve the quality of life and decrease the cost of care for patients.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine is a combination of medical treatment and complementary therapies. The latter do not treat cancer but can help cope with signs and symptoms – such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, 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 therapy, Reflexology, Reiki, Therapeutic touch, Biofeedback, Imagery ( Imagining scenes, pictures, or experiences), Creative outlets (art, music, or dance).

It also includes Vitamins and dietary supplements, Botanicals, which are plants or parts of plants (eg, cannabis), herbs and spices such as turmeric or cinnamon, and special foods or diets.

Most of the complementary therapies are safe and effective.

B. Helpful Supplements

Clinical trials show that some herbs and nutritional supplements help to manage specific side effects of cancer treatment. For example, American ginseng and Astragalus root used in traditional Chinese medicine may help reduce some side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue. Nutritional supplements like glutamine, vitamin B6, vitamin E, and omega-3 may help treat peripheral neuropathy. However, these supplements are not appropriate 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 food, and avoiding certain food. But these therapies are disproved or unproved. They do not treat cancer and are often harmful. Because they do not stop the growth of cancer. It may therefore worsen and thus reduce the treatment options because of the severity of the cancer.

The claim that these therapies are natural and therefore safe is false. Natural is not necessarily safe. Poisonous mushrooms are natural but not safe. Herbal supplements may be harmful when taken by themselves, with other substances, or in large doses. For example, kava kava, an herb used to help with stress and anxiety, may cause liver damage. And St. John, used for depression, may cause certain cancer drugs to not work as well as they should.

D.Dietary Supplements

People take dietary or herbal products to improve health, to get additional nutrition, to boost the immune system, or to treat side effects. Dietary products are vitamin and mineral products. Herbal, botanical, and other “natural” products may contain plants or parts of plants, algae, or fungi, or extracts from animals, 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 risk for bleeding. This could be dangerous for patients undergoing or recovering from surgery. Supplements can also interfere with prescription and over-the-counter medications. They may also be unsafe in specific health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, mental health conditions, heart disease, or blood clotting problems.

E. Side effects of supplements

*Supplements can cause serious side effects including:
*High blood pressure
*Nausea
*Diarrhea
*Constipation
*Fainting
*Headaches
*Seizes
*Heart attack
*Stroke

Summary

*Dietary or herbal product does not treat cancer.
*Herbs may 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 may lessen signs and symptoms – such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, 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 may be beneficial.

But many alternative cancer treatments are disproved or unproved, and some may even be dangerous.

Cancer Treatment in other Systems of Medicine

Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani, Yoga, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Chinese Medicine also have cancer treatment. But these are not proven. Though some of these might help cope with the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

Conclusion

“The only person who can save you is you” – Sheryl Crow

Cancer is a 3200-year-old disease. It is endogenous, apart from life-process. So, it can neither be eradicated, nor prevented, nor cured. Yet.

Late detection of cancer is fatal. The causes for late detection are many but lack of awareness is the principal cause. Other main causes are patient being shy, social stigma and doctors’ ignorance because of which the treatment is delayed. An awareness program will address all these issues.

If you loved your life before cancer, do not be afraid of life after cancer. You will find beauty again. “I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” — Galileo.

Will some radical discovery in the future make cancer prevention and cure possible? We do not know. But we can always hope.

Because as Richard Causer, Director, NCI, USA, says about the future of cancer cure, “There are far more good historians than there are prophets.”



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Disclaimer

Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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