What is Cancer?

Simply put, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal, non-functional cells. Cancer cells are abnormal in that they are cells that haven’t fully matured or differentiated into fully developed, working cells of the type of tissue they originate from. Cancer cells have broken genetic mechanisms that control growth and cellular reproduction allowing them to divide and replicate in an uncontrolled fashion. Normal cells have a self-destruct mechanism (called apoptosis) if they become abnormal or damaged. Cancer cells have turned off this mechanism. They are non-functional, resource-consuming cells that can impede the function of organs and may eventually consume too many of the resources that your body requires to live. These cells are progeny of your own cells and thus contain the same DNA and intelligence of your own cells. They know how to direct your body to grow a blood supply to support it’s growth. They know how to redirect your immune system to avoid detection.  “Cancering” is a process involving the whole system; the interplay between the cellular environment, cellular gene regulation, mitochondria function, the immune system, lymphatic system and involves all systems of elimination.
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How does cancer develop?

This is a complex question with many variables. Simply put, cancer happens due to damage to the genetic material inside a cell. Specifically, damage has occurred to

  • a) Genes that control DNA repair
  • b) Genes that control rate of cell division
  • c) Genes that regulate abnormal cell death
  • d) New evidence suggest that in many cancers damage to the mitochondria in cells(the cell organelle that produces energy), creates a toxic intracellular environment that causes DNA damage.

How does this damage happen?

According to the Mayo clinic, risk factors for sustaining genetic damage are: smoking, radiation, viruses, cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), obesity, hormones, chronic inflammation and a lack of exercise. Let’s look at this a little more deeply:

1. Free radical damage/oxidative damage.
Free radical damage comes from radiation (eg. Solar radiation and skin cancer, electromagnetic radiation, x-rays etc.), pollution, chemical toxicity (pesticides, PCBs, dioxins, cigarette smoke, flame retardants, chemicals in hair-dyes, cleaning agents, Teflon etc, etc.). Lacking a sufficient supply of antioxidants from your diet to protect yourself from your exposures, lacking proper function of the biochemistry required to produce or recycle antioxidants, or lacking the nutrients or chemistry to neutralize toxins. Genetic material that codes for the cellular processes that control cell division become damaged and the result is uncontrolled cell growth.

2. Viruses and bacteria.
We know that many cancers are the result of infections. Viruses are odd entities that function by inserting their DNA into the DNA contained in your own cells and temporarily “hijacking” your cells. Eg. Certain strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) cause cervical cancer. Hep C often eventually causes liver cancer. Like HPV, many viruses don’t cause acute infection-type symptoms, but can “hang out” in our body and assimilate – either causing harm, or not. Viruses quickly change and mutate. We haven’t actually discovered all the viruses there are that may be causal factors for various cancers.

3. Immune system problems.
Immunodeficiency, immune susceptibility and chronic inflammation. We all have at any moment in time, cancer cells in us; just like we are also in constant exposure to viruses and bacteria. A healthy immune system will deftly recognize abnormal cells and eliminate them, and will fight off the plethora of bugs that are present in the air, on your skin, on food and objects that you come in contact with. The reason that HIV is so deadly is because this virus targets your immune system and wipes out much of your body’s ability to fight off infections and infections that cause cancers. Most people do not have frank immunodeficiency. People can however have a weakened or nutritionally deficient immune system. Being stressed and deficient in vitamin C might be enough for you to catch a cold from the person that sneezed on the subway. Over time, being deficient in important nutrients like zinc, vitamin C, vitamin D, A, E, selenium etc required by your immune system can be enough to weaken many of your body’s important immunoregulatory processes. Exposure to environmental chemicals challenges your immune system. And lastly, stress impacts all body systems, depletes your immune system and can be the straw that broke the camel’s back that can push a body into the development of chronic disease.

The other way that your immune system plays a role in cancer development is via chronic inflammation. If an organ or tissue in your body is chronically inflamed, it also means that there is chronic irritation over and over again to that tissue. If you ran your nail over the same area of skin on your hand over and over again daily, you would develop at wound, then thickened skin, redness and constant soreness. Your skin in that area would eventually respond by producing a scar, a different kind of tissue on your hand. In other areas of your body, such as your intestines, abnormal growths or polyps can develop and eventually DNA damage can occur causing abnormal cell growth and intestinal cancer. People with inflammatory bowel disease have a much higher risk for bowel cancer.

Inflammation and cancer: Cancer is inherently an inflammatory process. Chronic inflammation in the body lends itself to the development of the “cancering” process. We now know that fatty tissue is actively inflammatory, thus, obesity increases ones risk of cancer considerably.

4. Genetics:
Only 5% of cancers are genetic. But children get cancer too. How do these mechanisms makes sense in young people?

Exposure to toxicity and cellular damage starts with the fundamental cells of life: ova and sperm of mom and dad. It then can continue to fetal exposure via the mother’s body-burden of accumulated and stored toxicity. A recent study reported 172 chemicals present in the cord blood of Toronto and Hamilton newborns, most are known carcinogens such as Teflon, flame retardants and pesticides. Studies also show that the average person in Toronto has 400 different fat soluble chemicals stored in their breast tissue, and that a significant amount of the chemical body-burden is relieved after breastfeeding first-born children. Sadly, if breast milk, one of the most important substances in the healthy development of a child were a product, it wouldn’t pass FDA standards.

5. Mitochondrial Damage.
Most of the cancer research to date has been focused on understanding the abnormal genetic factors involved in cancer cell growth. The research of Dr. Thomas Seyfried, PhD, University of Boston, is showing that this may not be the whole story. Dr. Seyfried’s research shows that it’s possible that cancer actually starts with damaged cellular respiration.

In each cell of your body, there are specific structures called mitochondria that are responsible for producing energy by burning fuel – fats, carbs, protein-turned-carb with oxygen and other nutrient cofactors. He has shown that cancer doesn’t actually happen without damage to the mitochondria first, and that damage has a role in messing up the genes involved in cellular growth regulatory mechanisms. He showed that transplanting the cell nucleus (the structure containing all genetic material in each cell) of a cancer into a cell with healthy mitochondria doesn’t produce cancer, while transplanting the cell nucleus of a cancer cell into a cell with a damaged mitochondria does. In order for cancer to perpetuate you need the cancer cell to have a malfunctioning mitochondria. Interestingly, the mitochondria in cancer cells can only use carbohydrate and sugar-based fuel to survive on. Cancer cells have many many more receptors for glucose on them than normal cells do, reflecting their increased need for sugar to survive. Sugar and carbohydrate thus feed cancer. This research and clinical findings have promising implications for short term use of ketogenic diets to “starve” cancer.

6. Other
More mechanisms continue to be elucidated with more research.

What is Integrative Cancer Care?

Integrative cancer care is a combination of best approaches to optimize a person’s health, help the body heal, encourage remission, prevent recurrence and support the whole processes. It is not separate from standard conventional therapy, but rather an integration, to optimize health and outcomes, to improve effectiveness and tolerance of chemo, surgery or radiation, to prevent side-effects and harm from treatment and to prevent treatment-induced cancers in the future. The goals are to improve outcomes, quality of life, survival time and prolonged remission. It values treating the individual; the person with cancer vs the cancer.

The focus of the integrative care available here focuses on cancer prevention, integrative care before standard therapies, after standard therapies and recurrence prevention.

Possible Treatment Goals of Integrative Cancer Care:

Surgery prep and optimized recovery.
– Rebuilding the body after treatment: clearing brain-fog, chemo-related fatigue, re-building blood counts and immune system resilience.
– Prevention of cancer recurrence, prevention of treatment-induced cancers, prolonged cancer-free status.

Defining the Roles of Your Care Team

Surgical oncologist
Specialist to surgical approaches to oncology.

Medical oncologist
Specialist in the chemotherapeutic approach to oncology.

Radiation oncologist
Specialist in the radiation medicine approach to oncology.

Integrative Oncology Care/Naturopathic Doctor with focus and training in oncology

The term Oncologist is reserved for MD’s with specialized education in oncology and chemo-based treatment of cancer. No other practitioner of medicine is allowed to declare specialty in the area of oncology. The term “specialty” is also a prohibited term in medicine reserved for formal education processes. ND’s may focus on particular area of medicine and spend years doing advanced training in a certain area but cannot use the terminology “specializes in” or any form of the word oncologist. The term “treat cancer” also cannot be used. We treat people with cancer.

For that matter, ND’s or MD’s who practice Integrative Oncology Care have a medical focus in whole person supportive care for people with cancer. This specialized knowledge base includes knowledge of chemo drugs, immunotherapy drugs, drugs given in combination with these treatments and radiation side effects.  This knowledge-base focuses on evidence-based treatments to support the body in repairing cellular dysregulation, to help cancer cells regain their ability to apoptose (undergo programmed cell death), to down regulate cancer cell growth factors, to sensitize cancer cells to chemo drugs and radiation, to protect healthy cells from damage, preventing side effects of treatment.  Treatments involve nutrition, orthomolecular medicine, functional medicine, iv nutrient therapies, injection therapies, stress management and treatments that cleanse, strengthen and re-regulate the body to support healing and resilience.

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