Cure for cancer: Understanding herbal claims versus chemotherapy
• Herbal Therapy Needs Further Examination, Clinical Trials-Durosinmi-Etti
• Chemotherapy Cannot Differentiate Cancer Cells From Normal Ones-Salako
• Breast Cancer, Most Common In Nigeria
When Roger McCreath, was diagnosed with prostate cancer, his world nearly grinded to a stop, but he gave no room for that to come to pass. Instead, he battled the scourge using a cocktail of herbal and conventional treatments.
Roger, now a holistic health coach, and owner of Roger McCreath Health, in the United States, who told The Guardian how he overcame cancer, said natural herbs and therapies can be used as supportive treatment options during cancer treatment.
“Having lived through my own cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, I can attest to a combined treatment regiment-conventional and holistic. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and treated with radiation therapy, and I also utilised holistic herbs to support my treatment regimen.
“I used traditional herbs from the Maroons of Jamaica, such as chaney root, black nerve wys, sarasparilla, cayenne, myrrh, ginger, herbal bitters and turmeric,” he said.
McCreath continued: “In addition to the above, I practiced daily meditation to improve mindfulness and facilitate healing,” he said.
Although there has not been significant clinical trials to demonstrate the efficacy of herbal treatment, the cancer survivour advised the use of a combination of conventional and holistic treatment for best result.
“There are many herbs that can be used to support a cancer treatment regimen. As holistic healers, we look at the whole person; the body, soul, mind…when we see a problem in the body, there is always going to be a problem in the mind, and it’s just our subconscious expressing itself…so, I believe that chemotherapy can cure to an extent, but true healing comes in treating the source,” McCreath said.
He added: “When we talk about chemotherapy and radiation, the danger is the killing of good cells, because science has not perfected the treatment.”
Even though experts have warned that there is need to be cautious when using some herbs along with some chemotherapy drugs to avoid interactions, through clinical trials, some natural herbs have been found to have cancer killing properties, which is why the idea of complete healing, using these herbs, would sound like melody to cancer patients desperately searching for a cure.
Nowadays, the Internet is awash with claims of cure for cancer using natural herbs and other unconventional therapies. Interestingly, some of these claims condemn outright, chemotherapy and radiotherapy describing them as western scams and very harmful to the body.
But how true are claims that cancer sufferers can depend exclusively on herbs for cure, without recourse to chemotherapy and other conventional healing methods?
A consultant in Clinical and Radiation Oncology, Professor Francis Durosinmi-Etti, said chemotherapy is not a scam, but not all types of cancers respond to chemotherapy alone.
Durosinmi-Etti, who is also Chairman, Cancer Aid Foundation (CAF) Nigeria, said some other additional types of treatment have to be given alongside chemotherapy, such as radiotherapy, surgery, hormone therapy, in order to eliminate the cancer cells completely.
The medical practitioner, who is also President, Cancer Education and Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CEAFON), added that some herbal therapies may complement conventional treatment.
He, however, warned that some herbs have been known to interact with some drugs, hence the need to always consult a physician when taking any herbal treatment.
Explaining the use of herbs in cancer cure, Durosinmi-Etti said, “Some of the chemotherapy drugs we currently use for treating cancer are derived from plants; flowers or even the bark of some trees. However, herbal therapy as we know it in Nigeria needs to be further examined and clinical trials carried out. I have no doubt that we will be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of some of these herbs, though I have no personal experience of using our local herbs in treating cancer. We need to carry out proper studies to evaluate some of these herbs. Who knows whether the common green grass we trample upon everyday may provide the cure for cancer. We need to carry out studies and I am personally interested in collaborating with others, especially our local herbalists in this field of research.”
For cancer patients tinkering with the idea of abandoning chemotherapy and the conventional treatment completely for herbal cure, Dr. Durosinmi-Etti, sounds a note of warning against taking such a dangerous route.
“I will not advise anyone to depend on herbal drugs as cure for cancer alone, because there’s no proven evidence yet regarding these herbs. This has often prevented patients from reporting early at the hospital. By the time they come around, it is already too late to manage. Nowadays, we have targeted therapies, which will find and block the pathways of the tumour, which is why patients need to present early for treatment,” he noted.
Clinical studies done on some common herbs and spices such as ginger, aloe vera, milk thistle, cloves and tumeric found them to contain substances that can help wrestle cancer.
One study done on licorice root (glycyrrhiza glbra), found that the root actually stopped the proliferation of breast cancer cells in humans. It was also said to provide protection from DNA damage often caused by carcinogens. Licorice root is said to contain polyphenols that encourage apoptosis (automatic death) in cancer cells. However, Licorice root has been linked to some side effects such as high blood pressure, and muscle weakness.
In hospitals today, chemotherapies are mainly used to attack cancer, alongside other treatments forms, such as radiotherapies and surgeries. Chemotherapy, which is the use of chemicals to destroy cancer cells has been found to have some side effects, which includes destroying some good cells in the body.
In spite of these limitations, a Consultant Radiation and Clinical Oncologist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Omolola Salako, said chemotherapy is an effective and available treatment option in many cases of cancer such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, colon cancer, but the downside of chemotherapy is that it cannot differentiate cancer cells from normal cells.
“Chemotherapy targets fast dividing cells, which is peculiar to both cancer cells and some normal cells, like the skin and blood cells. The effects of chemotherapy on the normal cells leads to side effects, such as hair loss, low blood levels, etc. However, if administered by a cancer specialist, these side effects can be controlled effectively. Many patients achieve control of their disease, and a few achieve complete cure because of chemotherapy,” she said.
According to her, chemotherapy is often administered through many routes – by mouth, intravenously, etc, and is not a scam.
Asked if the herbal therapy can work against cancer, she said: “Chemotherapy drugs are made from natural plants. Natural herbs have shown promise in providing relief for symptoms, managing side effects, and helping with supportive care, but herbs as the sole option in cancer management has not been authenticated by scientific research; hence, it is not practiced in cancer treatment centres. A lot of research, investment, and collaborations are required to explore and establish the benefits of herbal/traditional medicine in cancer management.”
She explained that cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence, but becomes one when access to treatment (radiotherapy, chemotherapy etc) is constrained by its availability and affordability, which is a common scenario.
“Thousands of homes today have someone living with cancer. Every year, more than 0.1 million people develop cancer, and over 70, 000 people die of cancer. The cancer burden is huge as it leads to disability, protracted time off work, loss of income, devastating effects and sometimes disintegration of families or premature deaths. The lost years of life, and productivity, caused by cancer is a drain on the economy. The total economic impact of premature deaths and disability from cancer in Nigeria has not been calculated, but we can estimate it to be in hundreds of millions of naira.
Salako, who is also the Executive Director, Sebeccly Cancer Care disclosed that, “The most common cancer in Nigeria is breast cancer. More than 50 per cent of all cancers in women is from the breast. The second most common is cervical cancer. The third, fourth, and fifth most common are liver, prostate, and colon cancers. Liver and colon cancers can affect both men and women, while prostate cancer only occurs in men,” she noted.
The cancer expert regretted that over 70 per cent of cancer patients do not go to the hospital on time, a development she said seriously limits their chances of getting a cure, even with the best cancer specialists, facilities or chemotherapy agents.
But one of the reasons why cancer patients run away from hospitals and conventional treatments is the high cost of treatment.
In confirming this, Dr. Durosinmi-etti said, “one drug for breast cancer could cost an estimated N1m. By the time you pay for 12 months, you must have spent about N12m. And this is apart from the money you will pay for the laboratory diagnosis and the radiotherapy.”
Although the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), has started taking up some of the costs, he said just very little have benefitted from the NHIS. “And even when there’s money, the machines are not working. The Federal Government needs to do more to see that the prices of these drugs are further reduced. Cancer is a major health issue in Nigeria. It is reaching epidemic proportions,” he said.
For solution to the increasing cancer cases in the country, Dr. Salako, said the implementation of a national awareness and screening for cancer, as prevention and early detection programme will prevent at least 30,000 cancers yearly in the country.
Also, there is need to optimise and equip cancer treatment centres to deliver quality and prompt care, and the implementation of a cancer care fund, either through the health insurance, or another financial mechanism, which will discount cost of care for patients, she added.
“In celebration of the Breast Cancer Awareness month, Sebeccly Cancer Care is launching her #TimeToScreen unit. This is a comprehensive cervical cancer screening and treatment centre. Screening services are free for all women, courtesy of the ACT Foundation and Access Bank. In addition, we are distributing a captivating movie called Purple Hearts, which tells the story of a couple, who after many years of waiting to conceive finally got pregnant. Their happy story was, however, complicated by a breast cancer diagnosis. It is a heart-warming and fun movie, which was made in partnership with Blue Light Productions.
According to the experts, changes in our lifestyles will help prevent many forms of cancer.
“By avoiding cigarette smoking, we can prevent 33 per cent of cancers related to tobacco smoking, avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption will avert three to five per cent of cancers. Avoiding harmful sun rays will prevent over 80 per cent of skin cancers in our albinos, who must be taught early in life that exposure to the sun is their greatest enemy. Lack of exercise, obesity are known and avoidable risk factors; avoiding multiple sex partners and having protected sex when inevitable will prevent cancer of the cervix due to Humanpapilloma Virus, while regular medical checks like self breast examination and other age-related breast examinations will help prevent breast cancer. Regular check and screening of the prostate gland by men will help reassure them, or if necessary, ensure early and curative treatment,” Dr. Durosinmi-Etti added.
“By avoiding cigarette smoking, we can prevent 33 per cent of cancers related to tobacco smoking, avoiding or reducing alcohol consumption will avert three to five per cent of cancers. Avoiding harmful sun rays will prevent over 80 per cent of skin cancers in our albinos, who must be taught early in life that exposure to the sun is their greatest enemy. Lack of exercise, obesity are known and avoidable risk factors; avoiding multiple sex partners and having protected sex when inevitable will prevent cancer of the cervix due to Humanpapilloma Virus
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