Searching for Answers for Cancer Patients-Part 1

In Uncategorized on February 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Last week I once again had the pleasure of chatting with Dr Michael Schachter on my radio show Survive and Live Well. Our topic–Searching for Answers for Cancer Patients, a three part discussion starting with a critique of the current standard of care all the way to the latest therapies that alternative medicine has to offer.  In part one on December 10th, Dr Schachter presented a critical analysis of current conventional cancer standard of care practices. In part two, Dr Schachter critiqued varies diets for cancer patients, and discussed what he believes to be important areas for the cancer clinician and the cancer patient to consider as part of a total program. Below is a synopsis of Part I (Part II to follow).

Part I, December 10th, 2013 –Know Your Options: Never Operate Out of Fear

The current standard of care (SOC) recommends/mandates the use of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies as the first line of defense against cancer.  Dr Schachter presented a critical analysis of why this might not always be the best answer for cancer–and certainly should not be the only options considered by the cancer patient. He explained that patients are often bullied into accepting treatment and may even be misled into thinking that they are being offered a cure; but that sadly this is often a gross exaggeration of the ability of conventional medicine to cure the cancer patient.  He also pointed out that the SOC might actually be contributing to more cancer and in some cases worsens the prognosis of patients with cancer in a significant number of cases. Additionally, conventional cancer treatment may result in life-threatening side effects and a reduced quality of life. (Integrative oncology has made significant strides in improving survival from cancer and its treatment, but we are still not winning the war.)

Although Dr. Schachter applauds the efforts of practitioners who have begun to make nutritional recommendations, including dietary suggestions and nutritional supplements, to cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment, he is concerned that integrative oncology practitioners tend to accept conventional treatment as a given. As an example, he cited the excellent work of Keith Block MD, who is regarded by many as the most respected integrative oncologist in the United States. His 2009 published book, “Life over Cancer” is regarded by such respected integrative physicians and scientists as Andrew Weil MD, Leo Galland MD, James Gordon MD and Ralph Moss as the definitive work in integrative oncology. Dr. Schachter points out that much of the material in this book is geared to helping patients tolerate the adverse effects of conventional treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Dr. Schachter’s position is that it may be time to question the entire approach of accepting conventional treatment as a given. Many cancer patients may be better off just ignoring recommendations for conventional treatment and focusing on alternative non-toxic treatment modalities. (Note that this section on Dr. Block was discussed in Part 2, but its placement seemed more appropriate here.)

Chemotherapy interferes with rapidly growing cells and is non-specific: normal cells are killed with cancer cells.  Currently there seems to be a movement toward what are called targeted therapies as an adjunct to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  Targeted therapies block the growth of cancer cells by interfering with specific targeted   enzymes needed for carcinogenesis and tumor growth.  Dr Schachter explained that targeted therapies mostly show modest benefits of a few months more survival in the clinical trials that have been conducted with advanced stage 4 cancer patients. Also, these treatments still have adverse side effects because the enzymes that are inhibited are also needed by normal cells and their inhibition may result in a long list of adverse effects. Nevertheless, the adverse effects of the targeted therapies are somewhat less than classical chemotherapy, which kills many normal cells along with the cancer cells they are designed to kill.

At a recent conference I  attended, the speakers asserted that chemotherapy has not been effective for many cancers. Consequently, immunotherapies and targeted therapies have been added to the chemotherapy protocols. However, one of the presenters, Dr Coit, MD, FACS, was quick to point out that when immunotherapy and targeted therapies are used alone, neither therapy was effective.  Immunotherapies sometimes afford a dramatic effect immediately, but unfortunately these results are unsustainable.   They take the brakes off the immune system so it can fight the cancer, but the effects don’t last.  Targeted therapies are then introduced to focus on specific gene mutations that are present in the cancer cells.  Ideally, according to Dr Coit, immunotherapy and targeted therapies should be used together, but that the two together at the same time would be too toxic to the patient.   Therefore most often they are used consecutively, rather than at the same time. Elyn Jacobs

Dr Schachter also challenged the excessive use of CT and PET scans.  I have often wondered why doctors order such scans so freely when it is no secret that they contribute to more cancer. Dr. Schachter pointed out that the radiation from one CT scan was equivalent to about 100 chest x-rays while the radiation from a PET scan was equivalent to 500 chest x-rays and the two together were equivalent to about 600 chest x-rays. Cancer patients are often asked to do these studies every few months, which exposes their already fragile bodies to a huge amount of diagnostic radiation. Dr. Schachter emphasized that radiation is carcinogenic and weakens the cancer patients already weakened immune system. Although these imaging studies are believed by conventional oncologists to help assess the cancer patient’s status and help to determine whether or not a particular treatment is working, there is little evidence that they really contribute to improving the survival time or the quality of life of the cancer patient.

A patient’s clinical status can often be assessed by careful physical examinations, careful questioning of the patient with regard to symptoms and sense of well-being and a whole barrage of blood tests to assess the patient’s blood count, liver and kidney functions, inflammatory markers, blood sugar levels and cancer markers. Clinically, this approach may be quite helpful and can be done without risk to the patient.

We discussed clinical trials and that usually it is only those conducting the trials who benefit—not the patients themselves; another downside is that often the patient is told that in order to participate in the clinical trial, he/she must cease any alternative treatments that are being done. It seems to Dr. Schachter that the people conducting clinical trials seem to be more interested in the clinical trial than in the welfare of the patient.

Dr Schachter presented some thoughtful questions to ask one’s doctor:

  • What is the likelihood my survival time will be increased?  (In Dr. Schachter’s opinion, this question is more important than a question about the likelihood of a clinical response. The clinical response, which is defined by the shrinkage of a tumor is not so important because it is often not associated with either an increase in survival time or improvement in quality of life.)
  • What is the likelihood that my quality of life will be improved?
  • What are the risks associated with the treatment with regard to morbidity (adverse effects from the treatment), mortality and the risks of developing another cancer?

To read the summary of Part II, Click Here

Replay Part I and II via the following links:

Dr Michael Schachter: Searching for Answers for Cancer Patients, Part I

December 10th, 2013–  http://hipcast.com/podcast/H1tlrkJs

Dr Michael Schachter: Searching for Answers for Cancer Patients, Part II

January 21st, 2014–  http://hipcast.com/podcast/HZ2hF9js

Join us Tuesday February 11th for Part III of this series.


             ~~If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any~~

 MEDICAL DISCLAIMER:  Reading the information in this post does not constitute a physician-patient relationship. The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider regarding a medical condition or any treatments.

Dr. Michael B. Schachter is a magna cum laude graduate of Columbia College and Columbia P&S Medical School in NYC. He is also a Board Certified Psychiatrist and a Certified Nutrition Specialist. Dr. Schachter has been involved with nutritional and integrative health care for 35 years. A leader in alternative cancer therapies, EDTA chelation and orthomolecular psychiatry, he is a past president of the American College of Advancement in Medicine (ACAM). He has authored numerous articles and was a major contributor to the large chapter about him in Burton Goldberg’s classic “Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer”. His published 2010 paper “Integrative Oncology for Clinicians and Cancer Patients” helps to guide patients in developing a cancer treatment program. His latest article published in 2013 entitled “Integrating Nutrition and Selected Controversial Nutritional Supplements into a Cancer Treatment” is an abridged and updated version of his 2010 article. In 2010, Dr. Schachter received the Humanitarian Award from the Cancer Control Society in California. He has a special interest in the role of iodine in health and disease. Dr. Schachter is the director of the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine in Suffern, NY.

 More information about Dr. Schachter and the Center are available at the website:  www.schachtercenter.com.  Many articles by Dr Schachter can be accessed from this site, including the two articles mentioned above

  Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor, professional cancer strategist, speaker, and the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Elyn empowers women to choose the path for treatment that best fits their own individual needs. She is passionate about helping others move forward into a life of health and well-being. Elyn has been featured on CNN Money, Talk About Health, and Breast Cancer Answers and has written for the Pink Paper, Breast Cancer Wellness, Integrative Oncology Essentials, Surviving Beautifully, Body Local and more, and writes the Options for Life column for the Natural Healing-Natural Wellness Newsletter.  Elyn hosts the Survive and Live Well Radio Show on the Cancer Support Network. Elyn lives in New York with her husband and two young boys. https://elynjacobs.wordpress.com/about/

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  1. […] Join us Tuesday February 11th for Part III of this series. For the written summary of Part I Click Here […]

  2. I really appreciate this written summary of the first part of your series. I have been frustrated lately when I think about the fact that in spite of decades of well-funded research, cancer remains such a mystery in many ways. You said it really well: “Integrative oncology has made significant strides in improving survival from cancer and its treatment, but we are still not winning the war.” And one part of the war that we really seem to NOT be winning is decent treatment options from the SOC for late-stage cancer patients, the ones who desperately need the most help! “…a few months more survival in the clinical trials that have been conducted with advanced stage 4 cancer patients” is just not much to get excited about, in my opinion.

    It makes sense to me to be critical of the SOC because the same kind of thinking that has resulted in the status quo of ineffective and harmful treatments, especially for late-stage patients, is simply not going to come up with the solutions. I suspect that traditional thinking on cancer has missed something really basic about it. I’m not quite sure what that is just yet, but I’m working on it.

    I’m going to read the other parts of the series now! — Sherman Morrison

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