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The 5 Dumbest Cancer Myths? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Dr Vasilev   
Monday, 17 August 2009 19:05

My mom just got a piece of junk mail that caught my eye.  It was from a non medical healthcare practitioner, certainly not one who has ever been qualified to treat cancer, and entitled "The 5 Dumbest Cancer Myths".  As this website and my other online blogs attest, I am certainly open to alternative and complementary treatments which fall under the rubric of Integrative Medicine (i.e. "the best of both worlds" effective remedies). However, what I found literally ALARMED me such that I had to write this post.

Here are the "Myths"......

#1.  Vitamins weaken chemo.  While it is important to keep up with nutrition and your lean body mass (which also keeps part of your immune system strong), the truth is that there IS reason for some concern here.  A regular multivitamin and regular supplements won't harm you in most cases.  However, higher doses of some supplements can not only interfere with chemo effectiveness, some cross reactions can kill you.  I'm not going to address the pros/cons of chemo, but it is a poison and it is designed to poison the cancer cells.....pretty brutal, but that is the plan.  The hope is that your normal cells can fight back faster than the cancer cells and thus the cancer is beaten back, or in some cases cured.  Some antioxidants can interfere with this such that you will get all the toxicity and no treatment benefit.  That is the first problem, and it is a gray area for sure.....but it is not a myth.  While it is not proven one way or the other, some vitamins can "weaken" the chemo effect.  Getting back to my second point, some vitamins and supplements can synergize with the chemo side effects and cause bleeding and other adverse events.  Bottom line, talk with your doctor about everything you take while you are chemotherapy. 

#2. Antioxidants interfere with radiation. This is the ONLY "myth" that I think may prove to be one in a way, but this is also a controversial area with medical evidence on both sides of the fence.  Many oncologists take the position that antioxidants by their nature undermine the free radical mechanism of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and should therefore generally be avoided during treatment.  On the other hand we know that antioxidants can protect against radiation damage in organs that are nearby or in the direct field of treatment which we want to avoid damage to.  Radiation can't always be focused to "miss" these organs and structures, so "radioprotective" agents are used.  Antioxidants can act as natural radioprotectants.  The point is that antioxidants most definitely interfere with radiation, but on balance there may be a positive effect by sparing some organs from toxicity without sacrificing the intended treatment.  Talk with your doc. Each case is different. 

#3. We think we got it all.  This statement is in reference to a surgeon telling a patient that all the cancer was removed, and less often a medical or radiation oncologist telling a patient that the chemo or radiation "got it all".  This is once again, not a myth by any means.  Some early stage cancers CAN be removed and that surgery can be curative. Each situation is different.  Often, the reason for using combination treatment IS because the surgeon thinks that microscopic cancer cells were left behind, lurking in a way that is undetectable by any scan but that eventually can lead to a recurrence.  So, myth?  NO.   On the other hand, if the surgeon stated this, and a patient wanted to do everything possible on their own to help prevent recurrence then we know that exercise and an antioxidant diet may help achieve this goal.  Unfortunately, in any given situation you won't know if it was that or if the surgeon really did "got it all".  However,  exercise and good nutriition won't hurt so it is very reasonable to follow this plan.  Are there supplements and vitamins that can "supercharge" this plan?  Possibly, but we have no idea what exactly those are.  If you follow this blog, I will be touching on why some may be good candidates.

#4. Natural treatments are unproven.  This is a very dangerous statement, because as much as I would love to have less toxic treatments available for my patients we are simply not there yet.  Give it another 5-20 years and the exciting research in biologicals, epigenetics and gene splicing will bridge the gap between some "natural" concepts that affect genes and metabolic pathways and REAL effective treatment results.  However, for the moment it is in fact  a myth that there are any effective stand-alone natural treatments for cancer.  Are there complementary natural treatments that can help with symptoms or even possibly effective standard treatments?  Absolutely.  But that is NOT the same as casting conventional potentially life saving (or at least life extending) treatment aside for a less toxic but completely ineffective natural treatment.  That is a sure death sentence, and that is not a myth.

#5. Vaccines save you from cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease caused in large part by persistent  human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.  There are a handful of HPV subtypes that cause the cancer, with others only leading to warts (unpleasant but not deadly).  Unfortunately one never knows during their sexual lifetime which ones  they will be exposed to. The idea is to immunize against the MAIN ones we KNOW cause cancer early, which will lead to a reduction in cervical cancer........some 20 years from now.  Cervical cancer does not happen overnight.  In fact it takes many years to go from normal to precancer to cancer.  So, we won't know the full effectiveness for many years.  For example, not all the cancer causing HPV subtypes are known and today's vaccines probably don't cover them all.  All we can do it immunize against the viral subtypes that we KNOW cause cancer today and await the results.  Because of good screening programs, in the USA cervical cancer, although terrible when/if you get it, is not a major health hazard relative to many other diseases.  However, it is most definitely a public health problem and in other countries it is the main killer of women.   The risks of vaccine??....There is always a risk with immunization but it is very small.  However, you should discuss pros and cons with your doctor before accepting ANY kind of treatment or vaccination.   

Regardless of potential good messages in this "myth" list, it is misleading and alarming for folks to come across garbage like this.  Beware of a wolf in sheep's clothing when exposed to anything you read and anything "sensationalistic" and "alarming" is more often a marketing ploy than medical fact.

Be careful out there......... 

Last Updated on Monday, 17 August 2009 20:14

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