Originally published in September-October 2004 icon
Patricia Peat is a registered nurse who has combined vast experience of working in oncology with years of research into natural approaches to dealing with cancer.
Patricia runs Cancer Options a private Integrative Cancer Consultancy.
You can send your questions to Patricia c/o Health Issues Ltd. or e-mail email@example.com.
Cancer Options is a specialised team of practitioners providing individual consultancy and coaching into treatment and making decisions for all approaches to cancer.
September & October 2004
Q: My sister has advanced cancer, and has been following a strict dietary regime and holistic lifestyle for some time: unfortunately her cancer is advancing despite this. She has put in a tremendous amount of time, effort and money and has stuck to it as best she could.
She is now becoming weaker and losing weight, but has been told by the supporters of this regime that her only hope of survival is to continue rigorously sticking to it.
We are increasingly concerned that this is doing her more harm than good now, and also worried about some of the advice she is getting. They have told her that the metastases the doctors have diagnosed are probably flare ups due to the healing process and not a problem, they also insist she does not take pain killers as they will inhibit her getting better.
We are struggling to stand back and watch her suffer but do not know how best to advise her. Can you help?
A: I am sorry to bear you are all having such a difficult time. It makes me extremely angry to hear of situations like this. No wonder the orthodox medical profession object to alternative approaches when people are receiving advice that is potentially harmful, and the same advice is given to everybody following that treatment, regardless of the circumstances and how they are progressing.
Whilst everybody is quickly becoming aware that good eating, detoxification, an holistic lifestyle and reducing toxins and stress can have beneficial effects, there are times when obviously overly rigorous application of these is harmful. Some of the stricter dietary regimes do achieve good results, and if the individual is fairly well and can cope, (and if it is their choice) they should be supported. In your sister's case, it is obvious that this is no longer having the benefits it might have bad previously, and she should adapt what she is doing to deal with the problems she is currently facing. If weight loss and weakness are affecting her quality of life, she should focus on regaining some weight, and strength by adapting her diet and increasing the elements such as protein that will help. If there is a large detoxification element she should only do whatever she feels able to on any given day.
As for not taking painkillers, that advice is unprofessional and unethical. I know the arguments against it, and quite frankly think they are ridiculous. If the pain is present despite the regime, then it is obviously not working. The pain will produce eli sorts of chemical reactions in the body, which are unhelpful to normal functioning, not to mention the emotional distress of being in constant pain. In my opinion, anybody who is telling you absolute rules about any approach to cancer, is not presenting a considered, individual appraisal of possible options, and should be avoided.
Q: Thalidomide has been offered to my sister, but with its past history we are naturally worried about potential side effects.
A:Thalidomide has been back on the scene for some time in clinical trials for many types of cancer, and in use for myeloma. It has been improving remission times by a reasonable amount.
Its historic problems with birth defects will naturally be avoided now. The current side effects suffered are sleepiness, drowsiness, constipation, rash, severe headaches, stomach aches, peripheral neuropathy dizziness and nausea. The people I know who have been on it have found the drowsiness a major problem as it impedes their ability to enjoy their days. Medication seems to relieve the other effects to a tolerable level.
Q: I have just been diagnosed with a tumour in my lung and told I will be having chemotherapy. My oncologist says this does not work on everybody, and there is no way of predicting who it will work on and who it won't. Do you know of any way of doing this?
A: This is an area in development which, when perfected, will provide valuable information to help with treatment decisions. I remember from my time administering chemotherapy bow devastating it is for people to go through the rigors of the treatment only to find it has been ineffective.
At the moment there is a method of testing an individuals potential reaction by so called chemosensitivity testing. This is a very new development and is unfortunately only accessible by sending samples to America.
The goal of all chemosensitivity tests is to determine the response of a patient's cancer cells to proposed chemotherapy agents thereby avoiding the toxicity of ineffective agents. In addition, some chemosensitivity assays predict tumour cell sensitivity, or which agent would be most effective.
Fresh samples of tumour from surgery or a biopsy are grown in test tubes and tested with various drugs. Drugs that are most effective in killing the cultured cells are recommended for treatment. Chemosensitivity testing does have predictive value, especially in predicting what "won't work". The currently claimed success rate of this is 85 - 90%.
If you wish to access this, you need to ask your doctors if they would be happy to obtain a sample by biopsy for you, which can be sent to one of the participating laboratories in America for testing.
This can only be done privately, and I believe the cost is in the region of 1,000.