The Changing Paradigm
Cancer is on its way to supplanting heart disease as the number one killer in North America. In the United States, one out of every four people will contract some type of cancer. This year, some one million Americans will learn they have cancer, and it will kill some 600,000. Although the U.S. "War on Cancer" was launched 27 years ago—in 1971—and some $37 billion have been spent, we are really no closer to finding a "cure" than we were in 1971. What cancer research and health and nutrition research have done, however, is show that the best cure for cancer is preventing cancer—something that can be done through lifestyle.
An ancient disease
Cancer is old. There is evidence of tumors in dinosaur bones and Egyptian mummies. Healers commented on tumors as early as 1,500 B.C., and Hippocrates gave cancer its name. The first "somewhat" reliable statistics on cancer, which showed a cancer death rate of 166 per million per year, were gathered in Wales and Scotland in the 1830s. By 1905, this rate had increased fivefold.
Whether the cancer rate is increasing or decreasing has long been debated. In 1843, Stanislas Tanchou, a Parisian doctor, "proved" that cancer deaths had been increasing in Paris. In the same year, two other scholars joined Tanchou is proclaiming cancer on the rise. This spurred debate on whether cancer is a "disease of civilization" because cancer was more prevalent in urban, "civilized" areas than in rural, "underdeveloped" areas.
Causes of cancer were also of concern. In 1713, the Italian physician Berardino Ramazzini published an early treatise on occupational health that linked cancer to environmental concerns. Since then, suggested causes for cancer have included dietary insufficiency and excess, urbanization, affluence, sedentary lifestyle, shifts in climate, physical trauma, reversals of sex roles, changing morals, sexual abstinence and sexual promiscuity, the failure to breast feed, grief, ambition, anxiety, chemicals, parasites, spicy foods, water, petrochemicals, dyes, and trout streams.
Early links to diet
Hippocrates was perhaps the first to make a diet-cancer link. He believed that cancer (like all disease) is an imbalance brought on by improper diet and exercise and the vagaries of climate, age, and season. For the next few centuries, diet and lifestyle received sporadic mention as somehow being linked to cancer.
In the early twentieth century, alcohol consumption was linked to increased risk of cancer, as was the consumption of fatty and sugary foods and canned and preserved foods. In 1909, it was shown that tumors transplanted into mice that were fed a low-calorie diet grew more slowly than those in well-fed mice, that underfeeding rats could slow the development of tumors, and that exercise also slowed the development of cancer.
In the 1950s, according to Patrick Quillin, Ph.D., R.D., in his book, Healing Nutrients, cabbage fed to radiation-exposed guinea pigs seemed to have an inhibitory effect.
It seems obvious that lifestyle and diet have always been linked to an inhibition of cancer in one way or another. If this is so, why didn’t research follow up? Many point to a preoccupation with the disease, and not the person; to the idea that cancer was localized and its root is not in the whole body (giving rise to the treatment of cutting out the cancer through surgery); to the growth of new, seemingly "curative" technology such as chemotherapy and radiation; and even to, cravenly enough, financial connections between invasive treatments and cancer organizations. Diet is just too simple.
At the same time that early links were being made between cancer and lifestyle, the well-known invasive techniques were being developed.
The general criterion for the surgical treatment of cancer was established around the turn of the century, starting with breast cancer. The instigator of this was William Halsted, known as the father of surgery. In seeking a "cure" for breast cancer, Halsted brought the world the radical mastectomy, which involves removing the whole breast and much of the surrounding tissue. This was based on a theory that carcinogenic cells are not spread through the blood stream, but through "tentacles" to organs. Thus, the more flesh you cut out, the better chance you have of cutting the tentacles and preventing the spread of cancer.
Although this "tentacle" theory was refuted in 1910, when James Ewing correctly established that cancerous cells are spread via the blood stream (and the lymphatic vessels) in a process known as metastasis, the Halsted "cut deep" theory continued and remains with us today.
In the 1940s, spurred by research developed during the Second World War, radiation and chemotherapy were found able to kill some cancers. The medical world quickly embraced these technologies. They are still with us today.
The goal of these conventional treatments is to cut, slash, and burn cancer. This created a juggernaut of surgical, radiation, and chemical treatment. Despite later proof that none of these are always the best option, and that they can cause more harm than good, the majority of physicians accepted this paradigm and were loathe to change, even when confronted with evidence of the failure of these methods.
Conventional treatment problems
At the same time that the medical world moved to the slash and burn treatment of cancer, a few voices questioned its efficacy. Francisco Contreras, M.D., in Health in the Twenty-First Century, Will Doctors Survive, notes that as early as the 1960s voices of dissent were speaking up. He recounts that numerous doctors were discovering that patients not subjected to aggressive conventional therapies had longer life expectancies than those subjected to treatment, sometimes up to four times as long.
Scientific America magazine (November 1985) found that chemotherapy, which is given to 50 percent of cancer patients, helped no more than five percent of them. In many instances, a case could be made that chemotherapy creates more agony and hastens the death of cancer patients. Dr. Ulrich Abel, writing in his book Chemotherapy for Advanced Epithelial Cancer, says that the "almost dogmatic belief in the efficacy of chemotherapy is generally based on false conclusion drawn from inaccurate data."
In 1987, John Bailar III, M.D., wrote that "Some 35 years of intense effort focused largely on improving [cancer] treatment must be judged a qualified failure," (Nutrition Science News, September 1997) and, in 1991, oncologist Albert Braverman wrote that "no disseminated neoplasm (cancer) incurable in 1975 is curable today. Many medical oncologists recommend chemotherapy for virtually any tumor, with a hopefulness undiscouraged by almost invariable failure." (http://lonestar.texas.net/~czubeck/chemo.html)
Despite these voices and increased evidence of the positive effect of diet on cancer, invasive options—cut, slash, and burn—continued to be the way to go. From the ’70s through the early ’90s those who brought up a link between cancer and lifestyle or cancer and food were dismissed as quacks, charlatans, profiteers, or back-to-the-earth hippies.
The paradigm changes
But ah, how things change. Today, even the well-established cancer organizations have changed their tune and, whether they acknowledge it or not, are saying that you are primarily responsible for beating cancer.
We are waking up to the fact that we can affect our health; that we have a large say in whether we get cancer. More and more health professionals are stressing this and developing lifestyle- and nutrition-based prevention and treatment for cancer.
What we can do
The best thing we can do to prevent cancer is to live a healthy lifestyle. This means
You are in
control of your health. Act accordingly!
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