Every day, as part of the continuous growth and repair process which takes place in the human body, some 500 billion new cells are formed. Occasionally defective cells are produced, some of which may escape the policing activities of the immune system and begin to multiply extremely fast. Rapid, uncontrolled growth is a characteristic of cancer cells. A rapidly dividing colony of cancer cells becomes a tumour, invading normal tissue, if cancer cells spread to other parts of the body via the blood or lymph, secondary tumours may develop; this spreading process is known as metastasis.
What causes the formation of defective cells in the first place? Chromosome damage is one possible explanation; inherited or acquired defects in the immune system are another; ageing may also be a factor, because as we age our immune system becomes less efficient and chromosome copying mistakes occur. Cell function can be altered by radiation (including strong sunlight), by viruses, by tobacco smoke, asbestos fibres, and other airborne irritants, by waterlogging due to retention of sodium in cells, by toxic wastes which accumulate as the result of constipation . .
Overall, cancer affects more men than women, and older people rather than youngsters, but there are exceptions; brain tumours and certain forms of leukaemia, for example, are no respecters of youth. Incidence can also be influenced by nutritional habits, climate, and cultural practices. A recent study found less cancer in nomads than in resident populations, which suggests that geopathic stress (distortion of the earth's natural radiation by buildings, water, power cables, etc.) may be significant in some people developing tumours.
Although cancer is not a modern disease, its incidence is increasing. This is partly due to external factors such as smoking and pollution, but also to increased life expectancy. We are not dying young from infectious diseases, as we used to, but living to a ripe old age and succumbing to degenerative diseases instead.
The role of the psyche in all this is difficult to assess. For years psychologists have been pointing out that there is a 'cancer personality', rooted in unresolved conflict between mother and child; typically the child deals with his or her frustration by becoming too adult too soon, by repudiating affection and denying his or her own needs. Sooner or later these unsatisfied needs reassert themselves, usually as the result of the loss of a loved object or person. Though cancer is not the only expression of buried needs, diagnoses of cancer in people who have lost a close relative or friend within the previous 18 months are well above chance. It should also be said that the age-cancer link may have something to do with the generally low esteem in which old people are held in our society.
That said, most experts agree that there is no single cause for cancer. At least two factors - heredity and diet, for example, or pollution and personality - need to come together in the same individual for cancer to develop.
The symptoms listed below are not infallible signs of cancer, nine times out of ten they have a quite different cause. But whereas most injections run a natural course and then clear up, cancer does not; it causes persistent change for the worse. If you have any of the following symptoms, ask your medical doctor to investigate.
- A persistent lump or thickening anywhere on the skin
- Unexplained swelling in a limb
- A mole or wart which starts to bleed, get bigger, or change colour
- Sores or 'bites' which do not heal
- Unusual bleeding from mouth, anus, genitals, or nipples, bleeding between periods, or altered bleeding during periods
- Persistent indigestion or a change in bowel habits unrelated to alterations in diet
- Unexplained weight loss of more than 0.5 kg (1 lb) per week
- Hoarseness lasting for more than one month
- Increasing difficulty swallowing or passing urine
No single branch of medicine offers a certain cure for every type of cancer. All forms of therapy should be considered - listen to everyone, take what appeals to you, and avoid fanatics. Depending on the kind of cancer you have and the stage it has reached, you may need several forms of treatment. For example, it might be sensible to buy time with orthodox treatment while you rebuild your immune system with homeopathy.
The homeopathic view of cancer is that it represents a profound breakdown in health at all levels. Home prescribing is not really appropriate in such circumstances. Instead you should seek the help of an experienced homeopath, who will probably prescribe specific remedies as well as constitutional treatment. In some cases, injections of potentized mistletoe (Iscador) may be given. Some homeopaths also use Bach Flower Remedies as part of cancer treatment. Vitamins and minerals may also have a role to play.
A deficiency of Vitamin C has been found in conjunction with certain tumours; high levels of Vitamin A have some protective effect against cancer in smokers - high doses of Vitamin A are used in therapy but can give rise to toxic side effects; Vitamin E and selenium, both anti-oxidants, are also believed to have protective effects, although in high doses they can weaken the immune system; Vitamin B complex, potassium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and calcium may also be relevant in some cases; digestive enzymes may be given to try to halt the activities of 'trophoblastic' cancer cells; treatment with Vitamin B17, also known as laterile, is the subject of great controversy, its detractors claiming that it is worthless and dangerous because B17 contains cyanide, its supporters say that it is safe provided no more than 1 gm is given orally per day and that it helps to relieve pain - in theory only cancer cells are susceptible to the cyanide because normal cells contain protective enzymes.
There are various dietary therapies for cancer, most based on strict vegan or lacto-vegetarian regimes. However, drastic changes in diet are not appropriate except in the early stages of cancer; in the later stages may be too run down. The Gerson Diet - strictly vegan initially, with juices and coffee enemas to detoxify the liver - has shown good result with cancers such as malignant melanoma, which are difficult to treat; it is not suitable if you have already had chemotherapy (see below).
Orthodox medicine offers surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and hormone treatment as appropriate. Unfortunately orthodox successes with childhood leukaemia have not been repeated with the more common forms of cancer. Surgery removes malignant tissue and also an area of healthy tissue around it; radiotherapy uses radioactive radium or cobalt to destroy cancer cells in situ - cancer cells arc more easily destroyed by radiation than normal cells; chemotherapy involves treatment with strong drugs, often called cytotoxic drugs because they interfere with cell production and metabolism - again, normal cells are less interfered with than cancer cells.
Psychological treatment is now regarded as a valuable adjunct to orthodox and alternative treatment. Cancer sufferers are taught to relax and create a vivid mental picture of their cancer being dissolved by the combined energies of their own immune system and whatever treatment they are receiving; this technique is called 'positive visualization'.
To find out more about treatment options, contact Cancer Contact, Bristol Cancer Help Centre.