The sun rises and the sun sets. It seems like the sun rotates around the Earth.
Cancer cells rise and are killed by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. It seems like cancer is a disease.
The sun does not rotate around the Earth, and cancer is not a disease.
The many forms of cancer cells are the products of the disease neoplasia that can emerge in our organs and tissues.
When the normal cycles of life and death of our body cells go awry, unruly cells undergo neoplasia and become benign or malignant tumors…cancer. Although the forms of cancer cells vary widely, the underlying disease–neoplasia–is the same throughout the body. Neoplasia occurs when our immune systems fail to recognize and destroy aberrant cells.
If the “War on Cancer” organized in the late 1930s had become a “War on Neoplasia” when the latter was clearly identified as the process that produces cancer in the 1970s and 1980s, we may well have had cures for the many forms of cancer today. Words influence actions.
In 1963, Dr. Joseph H. Burchenal of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research pointed out that “It is unlikely that chemotherapeutic agents against cancer will be any more effective, unless there is some sort of an active immunological response that can be evoked.” Antibiotics reduce the number of bacteria, but our immune systems are needed to cure the diseases they cause. The same principle applies to chemotherapy and cancer cells.
For this reason in 2011, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) declared in its report Accelerating Progress Against Cancer that “cancer research and patient care could be vastly more targeted, more efficient and more effective. But this vision is possible only if we transform the way cancer research is conducted .”
On March 23, 2013, twenty-one oncologists pointed out in a New York Times editorial that “this year, more than 1.6 million Americans will receive a diagnosis of cancer. Their treatment will consume at least 5 percent of the country’s health care spending, at a cost that is growing faster than all other areas of medicine. Doctors and patients recognize that this is unsustainable and that we need to change the way we deliver care.” They added, “many expensive tests and treatments are introduced without evidence that they improve survival or reduce side effects, and with poor information about which patients should receive them.”
After decades of neglect, immunotherapy finally was recognized appropriately at the 2013 American Association for Cancer Research meeting. In her plenary lecture, Dr. Suzanne Topalian of Johns Hopkins University said that despite the current dogma that cancer is a genetic disease, it also can be viewed as an immunologic disorder. She said, “In many ways the adaptive immune system is an ideal anti-cancer therapy.” She affirmed in 2013 a concept first advanced in 1957 by Dr. Frank Burnet and reiterated in the 1980s and 1990s.
The public is not served well by those who point to increased five-year survival rates as indicating significant progress in the cancer field. Millions of lives have been lost because of decades of misdirected and underfunded basic research.
A paradigm shift in the cancer field is needed based upon two fundamental principles of medical practice: 1) do no harm (chemotherapy destroys normal cells and suppresses the immune system with debilitating side effects) and 2) base research and treatment on diseases not on their symptoms or signs. Cancer cells are signs of an underlying disease: neoplasia. The variety of factors in cells and their microenvironments that induce and that fail to block neoplasia in organ systems and tissues should be the focus of research and treatment.
In my book The Cancer Solution: Taking Charge of Your Life with Cancer, I selected a Complementary Cancer Treatment Protocol from the array of alternative therapies for cancer as the most scientifically justified and efficacious and categorized them according to their modes of action. The most effective approach is to use all of them as a “cocktail” to complement conventional treatment because of their synergetic effects, as suggested by Dr. Raymond Chang in his book Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-cancer Cocktail. Dr. Chang offers suggestions for a wide variety of additional alternative agents.
Public awareness and pressure are needed to adequately fund cancer research and treatment focused on the underlying disease neoplasia. Simply fighting cancer by killing cancer cells is not enough and is gravely misleading.
Jack C. Westman, M.D., M.S.
Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health