Question: I was just diagnosed with breast cancer and waiting for my surgical consult. Could you please explain a naturopathic doctor’s potential role in cancer treatment?
Answer: Cancer is reflective of an overwhelmed immune system. Your immune system may be burdened by many factors including stress, environmental exposures such as radiation, smoking, asbestos and various chemicals, nutrient deficiencies, hormonal excesses, obesity, possible infections and genetics.
I mention these things not to overwhelm, but to inform and empower so you can make changes. There is no cancer treatment that can boast 100 per cent effectiveness and it is readily acknowledged that cancer can come back even when treatment is successful. So, until conventional treatment can offer a guarantee of being cancer free I would use the support of natural evidence-based therapies with the guidance of a licensed ND covered by most health plans.
Get organized. A good job for your main support person is to get copies of all of your blood and imaging reports. Before surgery, an ultrasound of the armpit may reveal enlarged lymph nodes and a needle biopsy can determine if there is spreading to the lymph nodes. This sample can also be used for pathology, which will dictate the recommended drug treatment, which may be advised before surgery, if the disease has metastasized. In B.C., Neupogen is given before treatment with the drugs doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide and/or paclitaxel to boost the white blood cell count instead of waiting until it drops. They do this to reduce risk of infection, which would be especially important during flu season. If you have a drug plan you may want to discuss where Neupogen fits in the plan. Neupogen impresses me the most of all conventionally prescribed cancer medications because it actually boosts your immune system, which is where this all started.
There are many studies that have been conducted so far and research is ongoing in cancer treatment centres and universities. Here are just some of the findings: a correlation has been made between bread consumption, particularly in overweight women, and the risk of breast cancer; diets highest in fibre are associated with lower mortality; vitamin D has been shown to reduce breast cancer recurrence; highly bioavailable curcumin may reduce doxorubicin cardiotoxicity and increase sensitivity and exert its’ own antitumor effects. Chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) is experienced by 30-70 per cent of chemotherapy patients depending on the chemo used. Often, the experience of CIPN does not resolve after treatment has stopped and the National Cancer Institute has deemed it a major cause of treatment cessation. Therein lies the potential for decreased chemotherapeutic efficacy and higher relapses of cancer. Some examples of naturopathic therapies to protect against CIPN are melatonin, 90 per cent omega 3 and vitamin B6.
If you want to combine conventional and naturopathic treatments but naturopathic therapy is discouraged by your oncologist because it may interfere with treatment, then ask for evidence of this harm before passing on naturopathic support that has been shown to help. Ottawa Hospital offers integrative cancer care.
My colleague works in the chemotherapy ward of Lion’s Gate Hospital in Vancouver and Cancer Centers of America employ naturopathic doctors as part of their health-care team. I wish you strength, courage, knowledge, love and support as you find your way.
Kali Simmonds, ND, is a doctor of naturopathic medicine who practises in Charlottetown. The information provided is not intended to diagnose or substitute the advice of ar health-care professional. Consult with a health-care provider before making any changes. She welcomes questions for this column, which is published the first Tuesday of every month in The Guardian. She can be reached by mail at 34 Queen St., Charlottetown, C1A 4A3 or by email at email@example.com.