Some of the most tragic stories one will ever hear in medical practice are those of cancer patients and their families. Unfortunately, the tragedy is often the result of the impact on people's lives not only of the disease but also of the treatment, as well as the failure of the current medical model to deal with preventive factors and emotional issues.
Although even the most conservative groups acknowledge that at least 80 percent of our cancers are premature and could be prevented by eliminating smoking, adopting a healthier diet, and avoiding certain exposures to radiation and cancer-producing hydrocarbons. In fact, in 1987, the New England Journal of Medicine published results of two studies indicating that women who consumed three to six alcoholic drinks per week experienced a 30 percent to 60 percent increase in likelihood of breast cancer.
Still, the notion of teaching people to care for themselves and to prevent these cancers seldom receives more than lip service from the orthodox medical practitioner. Instead, the overwhelming bulk of money and attention expended in the field of cancer is directed toward treatment. And as many cancer patients will tell you, the treatments are often as bad as the disease-extensive surgery to remove the cancer and all lymph nodes to which it has spread, radiation and
x-ray treatment, which can burn and destroy normal tissue, and metabolic poisons, which poison not only the cancer cells but also many of the body's healthy cells. And because, with the exception of surgery, none of these treatments is expected to actually produce a cure, no matter how grisly was the last treatment, the cancer patient generally feels he or she has only two options for the future: an even more unpleasant course of treatment or death.
It has been said that when the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything like a nail. Similarly, when the kind of medicine you have developed is designed to attack invaders (such as bacteria and bullets) the same logic is carried over to the treatment of cancer.
Although there is some theoretical support for the belief that at least some cancers may be triggered by viruses, what we do know is that in all cases of cancers the cells that cause the problem are cells from the patient himself or herself. Whatever the etiology may be, the final common pathway for the disease is that the normal rate of growth is changed and the healthy destruction of abnormal cells is inhibited in some way. As a result, large masses of cells are formed and appear as benign or malignant tumors.
Ordinarily, in nearly every organ of the body, cells are constantly dividing, producing new cells. Simultaneously, other cells are being destroyed as they grow older. This balance is also maintained by other, poorly understood factors, such as contact phenomena, in which the presence of a certain number of cells seems to inhibit the formation of new cells.
When we examine the cells of a tumor beneath the microscope, we find that they appear quite different from normal body cells. These changes are even more marked if we are dealing with a malignant tumor. The drawings on page 242 will give you an idea of some of these differences. These abnormal cells seem to ignore the usual rules, the normal cellular structure is lost and there appear to be no restrictions on their growth.
The appearance of abnormal cells is not, however, a rarity in anyone's life. Each day, of the hundreds of thousands of new cells that appear in our bodies, a certain percentage are abnormal and are destroyed by the body, either through its immune mechanisms or through the action of phagocytic cells. Thus, as many investigators believe, we may be producing many potential cancerous cells each day.