Health Tips / Cancer

You learn the diagnosis and your life is never the same. If you want to do as well as possible with the diagnosis of cancer, let me offer this advice: Drop the “victim” mentality immediately. More people are surviving cancer–and thriving thereafter–than ever before. Then, take charge of everything. Become an empowered patient, learn all about your condition and accept nothing passively. Whether you’re reading this as a cancer survivor or you’re currently in treatment, your basic task is to take exquisite care of yourself, both emotionally and physically. Here at the Cancer Support Healing Center we’ll answer the one question we hear most often from cancer patients (and survivors): “What can I do for myself?” And this really means: “What supplements and herbs should I be taking? What should I be eating? What else should I be doing? And what about alternative therapies?” We know that you are fully aware how these factors will make a difference in your life. But we also appreciate that you may have uncertainties and may not know which way to turn. Please read this section carefully, perhaps printing it as a reference or forwarding it to a friend or loved one. And most important–and at WholeHealth Chicago we feel very strongly about this–never undertake any therapy, conventional or alternative, you don’t fully believe in.

We hope you’ll work with physicians you feel a strong connection to and be able to feel great confidence in whatever treatment options you choose to make. We’d like to increase your awareness about those options.

What is Cancer?

The more than 100 different types of cancer that can affect a human being all involve the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, or malignant, cells in one or more parts of the body. Most cancers begin as a solid growth, or tumor, in an organ or body tissue. Depending on their type and location, tumors may be fast or slow growing, and some may not produce symptoms until the disease is far advanced. If cancer is not detected and treated early in the process, however, malignant cells can spread, or metastasize, from the tumor to other parts of the body. One of the most common types of cancer, colorectal cancer, for example, can in time affect the liver, lymph nodes, and other more distant organs and tissues. Without treatment, the uncontrolled growth of malignant cells can overwhelm healthy cells, deplete the body of vital nutritional resources, and lead to severe illness and possibly death.

Fortunately, modern medicine has made great strides in fighting many types of cancer through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. While certainly not a substitute for conventional medicine, cell-protecting supplements and other natural therapies can often complement and may even improve the effectiveness of traditional cancer treatments. They may also help ease some of the side effects. Prevention, primarily through healthy lifestyle choices and early detection, through regular self-examination and medical monitoring, are the most important strategies for successfully managing cancer risk.

Key Symptoms

  • Abnormal bleeding or discharge
  • A lump or swelling in the breast, testicles, or other parts of the body
  • A sore or a scab that won’t heal
  • A change in a wart or mole
  • Unexplained increase or loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Recurring indigestion or difficulty swallowing
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Persistent coughing, hoarseness or sore throat; coughing up blood
  • Unusual fatigue

What Causes Cancer?

What actually causes healthy cells to become malignant and grow uncontrollably remains unclear. A primary factor, however, seems to be the inability of the immune system to detect and eliminate both free radicals, unstable oxygen molecules that harm cells and early cancer cells. Cancer-causing agents, such as tobacco smoke, radiation (from X rays or the sun) and environmental pollutants, as well as poor diet and stress, can all weaken the immune system to the point that it cannot effectively control free radicals or combat cancer cells. Another important factor in the development of many types of cancer, such as breast and colorectal cancer, appears to be heredity, or a family history of the disease.

Treatment and Prevention

Although conventional treatment seems to sound rather limited, confined as it is to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, the advances made during the last 10 years in each of these fields is vast indeed. Just taking breast cancer alone, we’ve progressed from the disfiguring radical mastectomy to the simple lumpectomy–and improved survival statistics in the process. Radiation is more precise; chemotherapy doses are structured to reduce side effects.

Treatments are no longer confined to simply killing cancer cells; they now enhance the patient’s own immune system. And there’s been a refreshing openness on the part of physicians who treat cancer to explore alternative and complementary approaches to the ailment. Probably in no area of medicine is more dramatic research being undertaken than in our continuous battle against this most feared of diseases.

The use of supplements and natural therapies in the treatment of cancer has been the subject of much controversy. Cancer is potentially life-threatening, and cancer patients clearly require expert medical care. Supplements, however, especially antioxidants, can play a valuable complementary role in cancer treatment, as long as they are taken daily on a long-term basis. If supplements are part of your cancer therapy, make sure your doctors know what you are taking.

In addition, a healthy diet, such alternative therapies as massage, meditation, and biofeedback, and an ongoing support group can help reduce the stress of the disease and the treatment process. All the supplements listed here are safe to use with any cancer treatment.

How Supplements Can Help

The key cancer therapy supplements are the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (especially beta-carotene and lycopene), selenium, and coenzyme Q10. NAC (N-acetylcysteine) is an extremely potent supplement that supports and maintains the body’s level of its own most potent antioxidant, glutathione. All of these supplements help by protecting cells against free radicals and possibly by inhibiting the proliferation of malignant cells. They may also protect healthy cells from the damaging effects of chemotherapy or radiation, making them especially beneficial for patients undergoing those treatments. Vitamin C may also help the immune system destroy any cancer cells that are left over after treatment.

In addition to antioxidants, take mixed amino acids, which help promote healing and may slow tumor growth. One particular amino acid, L-glutamine, should be taken to avoid chemotherapy side effects.

To fortify the immune system during cancer treatment, alternate echinacea, and medicinal mushrooms, switching supplements every three weeks. (The Coriolus versicolor mushroom has shown particular promise in combating lung, stomach and colon cancers, and the maitake mushroom has had positive effects in some studies.)

Essential fatty acids, particularly in the form of fish oils, can benefit the immune system in its fight against cancer, as well as protect from the ill effects of radiation and chemotherapy.

Also consider a liver detoxification formula (sometimes called a lipotropic combination), which may help keep cancer-promoting toxins from building up in the body. The herb sylmarin (milk thistle) can also help in this regard.

To ease the nausea caused by chemotherapy, try ginger, either in pill form (100 to 200 mg every four hours) or as a cup of tea taken as needed.

Self-Care Remedies

To promote healing and keep up your strength, be sure to eat a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals. Make an effort to avoid junk food, highly processed foods, and foods with additives and preservatives. Eat five or six servings of fresh fruit and vegetables a day.

Exercise, massage, and mind-body techniques such as biofeedback and meditation can reduce stress and anxiety and may help ease symptoms.

Consider joining a support group, which can help you to better cope with the rigors of treatment and may even improve longevity.

Look into acupuncture to control the nausea of chemotherapy or reduce any problems with pain.

Consider art or music therapy both for self-exploration and as a support for your immune system.

When to Call a Doctor

If you experience any of the symptoms of cancer for two weeks or longer and there is no other obvious explanation for them

Supplement Recommendations

From David Edelberg, M.D. at WholeHealth Chicago: You should be aware right up front that the supplements we recommend at WholeHealth Chicago aren’t cures, but their various benefits can complement conventional cancer therapies very effectively. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy, check these recommendations with your doctor before you begin the regimen.

How to take the supplements

You can use all of these supplements with conventional cancer treatments. Just one note: Oncologists are in disagreement about the wisdom of taking antioxidants on the same days as chemotherapy treatments, so check with your own doctor.

The following nutrients help shield cells from free-radical attack and may also slow the growth of cancer cells: vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (particularly beta-carotene and lycopene), NAC (N-acetylcysteine), selenium, and coenzyme Q 10. Carotenoids in particular help fend off a variety of cancers, including those of the prostate, digestive tract, cervix, and lung.

Many nutritionally oriented physicians believe a patient can become malnourished due to a declining appetite that often occurs during chemotherapy. Because this can effectively destroy the body’s cancer-fighting abilities, you need to make every meal as nourishing as possible. In addition, digestive enzymes can be beneficial because they enhance the absorption of nutrients. A high-quality soy-based protein powder helps insure that no amino acid deficiencies develop.

To build up your immunity during cancer treatments to help you fight off any lingering cancer cells, take an immune booster, such as echinacea, pau d’arco, or medicinal mushrooms. Each has been shown to be of benefit in limited studies. A sensible program might be to take one of them for about three weeks and then shift to the next.

Some studies have shown that the amino acid glutamine can be helpful in preventing and healing damage to the lining of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract caused by radiation and chemotherapy. Your best bet is to purchase glutamine as a powder. Capsules of glutamine are available but not as effective because no glutamine can reach the mouth or esophagus directly.

And finally, the herb ginger is a reliable remedy for nausea of any kind. If this is a problem for you due to chemotherapy, then consider taking ginger on a regular basis–in capsule form, as a tea, or even by chewing slices of raw ginger.

For special consideration

Preliminary studies have shown that certain herbs have value for specific types of cancers. The mushroom extract Coriolus versicolor (1,500 mg twice a day) has shown benefit for lung, stomach, and colon malignancies.

To the surprise of conventional physicians, the Chinese herbal combination PC-SPES (spesis Latin for “hope”) has been found to be effective for treating prostate cancer. Follow package instructions.

Some research findings suggest that the squalene and alkylglycerols found in shark liver oil (2,000 mg twice a day) may be useful in stimulating the immune system, helping to minimize cancerous growths.


We at WholeHealth Chicago strongly recommend that everyone take a high-potency multivitamin/mineral and well-balanced antioxidant complex every day. It may be necessary to adjust the dosages outlined below to account for your own daily vitamin regimen. All of our supplement recommendations also assume you are eating a healthful diet.

Be aware that certain cautions are associated with taking individual supplements, especially if you have other medical conditions and/or you’re taking medications. Key cautions are given in the listing below, but you need to see the WholeHealth Chicago Reference Library for a comprehensive discussion of each supplement’s cautions and drug/nutrient interactions.

For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700 ext. 2001.