Functional Medicine Approach to Cancer Part 1

A different apporach to understanding Cancer

We know that a combination of genes and the environment are involved in the development of cancer. Normal cells are transformed into cancers as a result of changes in molecular, biochemical and cellular compounds, and for each cell there is a finite number of ways that this disruption can occur. Research indicates that with the explosion in cancer cases in the last 50 years or so, up to 90% of these incidents were caused by environmental imbalances or changes occurring in or around the body.

The lifestyle choices we make are directly increasing the risk of cancer cells forming in our bodies. It is well known that smoking increases the risk of lung cancers, alcohol of mouth and throat cancers, and high salt nitrates foods of stomach cancers, for example. But what is not clearly explained is how various other external factors like toxins (heavy metals), pollutants, hormonal imbalances, oxidative stress and immune system deficiencies can each, in turn, or in unison, affect the development of cancer.

How to decide whether a person has a hormonal imbalance or toxin overload which is contributing to his cancer development requires a different understanding of human health; a different approach to appreciating the subtle influences which affect human metabolism. This approach is best defined as functional medicine.

This new discipline in primary health care, was developed by a group of medical doctors and biochemists at the turn of the century, as result of the frustrations of treating the chronic diseases of the world today. With cancer rates skyrocketing, a new approach to addressing the disease was needed. By assessing the imbalances, toxicities and deficiencies, the body can achieve a state of homeostasis once again, and this will provide an inhospitable terrain for cancer to develop.

With functional medicine we take a systemic approach to reviewing the patients health in relation to cancer and we review the following key influences on cancer development.

Understanding the root cause

Weakened Immunity: We know cancer is caused because either the immune system has become overwhelmed and/or is weakened. The No.1 cause of weakened immunity is a nutrient deficiency of some kind. A single nutrient deficiency can impair the immune system profoundly and therefore a complete overview of the nutrients which affect immunity is recommended. These include the vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D3, E and minerals Zinc, Selenium, Magnesium, Iodine, Iron and Amino acids Threonine, Lysine, methionine. The immune system is also influenced by the presence of certain gut bacteria so this must also be assessed.

Hormonal Imbalance: Various hormones have been directly and indirectly linked to the development of cancers in the body. The following hormones should be evaluated for any imbalances which occur and corrected accordingly. Insulin, Thyroid hormones – TSH, T3, T4, Thyroid anti-bodies, the sex hormones – estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and the stress hormone, cortisol.

Toxin Overload: We live in a toxic world, we have seen an exponential rise in toxic chemical exposure across the globe from sources such as heavy metals, petro-chemical pollutants, pesticides, toxic foods and beverages. It is predicted that the use of organic chemicals in industry is going to accelerate dramatically over the next 30 years. From looking at studies of epidemiological data, and laboratory studies with animals and humans we can link the exposures to this variety of toxic chemicals to certain cancers in the body, notably liver cancers, multiple myelomas, leukemias, brain tumors and pancreatic cancers. The process by which chemical toxins trigger cancer is through severe oxidative stress and subsequent inflammatory cascade, which create abnormal cellular changes in metabolism and cell replication.

Pathogen Exposure: We know certain pathogens like HPV (human papillomavirus), EBV (Epstein Barr virus), Helicobactor Pylori and Hepatitis B and C can increase the risk of specific cancers in the body. Most of the time these viruses are kept in check or are in dormancy stage in the body, but with a weakened immune system they can re-emerge and trigger mutational changes within cells, which can trigger cancer cell development.

Inherited Genetic Mutations: There are numerous genetic mutations, which if given the right environmental stimulus to express, will increase your predisposition to cancer. The most common of which are known to affect breast and ovarian cancer are the BRCA1 BRCA2 – which increase cancer risk by up to 70% over the lifetime of the woman. This presents the patient with life-changing decisions to be made.

Poor Dietary Choices: Poor dietary choices have been linked to numerous cancers of the digestive system. Long-term over-consumption of fat, salt, processed foods, junk foods and deep fried foods has been proven to be linked to specific cancers. In modern times, with intensive farming approaches, what was once considered healthy is now unhealthy due to toxin build-up in animals. This includes beef, pork, chicken and farmed fish, which must now be considered with caution.

Glandular Weakness: Various glands have critical roles in maintaining homeostasis in the body. The thymus gland, which is part of the immune system is essential for helping to activate the white blood cells. As we age, the thymus gland shrinks and becomes less active. The pancreas is critical to regulating blood sugar, if the pancreas becomes overstretched then insulin production increases which raises the risk of cancer development. The thyroid gland, the master regulator of your metabolism, controls the energy output of your body. If the thyroid output is low, then the overall energy output of the body is reduced and this can hinder cancer recovery. The adrenal glands produce the hormones which help the body manage stress, however too much stress can shut off the immune system and increase our susceptibility to cancer.

When it comes to the causes of cancer, there are many factors to consider from a functional medicine perspective. Only through careful consideration and evaluation of a patient’s health history and medical records can we determine the appropriate interventions and testing required to correct imbalances in the body. Being mindful of the subtle changes happening in the body will help you to maintain optimal metabolism, with efficient detoxification pathways and a healthy immune system. At Life Cancer Care we have the key expertise in functional medicine to assist you.

Miles Price,
Functional medicine Specialist AFMCP, CFMP.

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