Naturopathic Medicine for the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer


By Jeffrey Sepúlveda, N.D.


With the “National Cancer Act”, president Richard Nixon declared the war on cancer in 1971. At that time is was believed that by the year 2000 we would have found the cure for this disease. In the 44 years since then, a large amount of money and effort has been invested developing new diagnostic techniques and conventional treatments. But the war on cancer has not turned out to be as successful as it seems to have been. In this regard, a 1997 article published in the prestigious “The New England Journal of Medicine” indicated that, 26 years after the beginning of the war on cancer, the effect on patient mortality of newly developed cancer treatments had been largely disappointing. For instance, we have seen that while in 1971 2 out of every 40 women used to develop breast cancer during their lifetime, today 5 out of every 40 women develop it (a 250% increase in the last 44 years). We have also seen that for a significant number of cancers (like pancreatic, lung, primary liver, stomach, and the vast majority of metastatic cancers) the prognosis has not improved much in the last 44 years. And just as it was in 1971, cancer continues to be our second main cause of death. In this regard, the conclusion of the “New England Journal of Medicine” article previously mentioned was that “the most promising approach to the control of cancer is a national commitment to prevention”. Unfortunately, conventional medicine continues to focus on the development of new diagnostic techniques and high technology treatments (surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy), instead of giving the same emphasis to cancer prevention and to the development of treatments that take into account factors such as nutrition, exercise, and the patient’s mental state.


Cancer treatment is very complicated because cancer is not a disease, but rather a diverse group of many different diseases. This complicates the development of effective therapies (including conventional and natural ones), because one that is effective against a particular type of cancer may be totally ineffective against others. Additionally, many cancers are multifactorial diseases, which means that factors that by themselves do not cause cancer, when combined with other factors are capable of producing it. This significantly complicates the identification of the cause (or causes) of specific cancers, and as a consequence complicates their prevention and treatment.


Only 5–10% of all cancers have a genetic cause. On the other hand, 90–95% of cancers are caused by either by lifestyle factors (including diet, tobacco & alcohol use, sedentary life & stress) or environmental factors. For this reason, it is estimated that 80% of known risk factors for cancer are potentially preventable.


Approximately 1/3 of cancers have been associated to poor eating habits & obesity. In fact, diet has been associated with breast, colon, prostate, pancreatic, uterine, gastric, kidney, mouth, throat and esophageal cancers, among others.


In greater detail, the diverse risk factors for cancer include, among others:



Specific types of cancers usually have additional risk factors.


Worldwide cancer incidence has been predicted to increase 75% by 2030. Why is cancer incidence increasing in spite of the massive amount of money being spent on cancer research? Because we are not educating the public on how to avoid factors that cause cancer, and many of these factors (like the poor modern diet and environmental pollution) are getting worse as time goes on.


Naturopathic medicine’s objectives and benefits for cancer patients


The primary objective of naturopathic medicine (practiced by naturopathic doctors, who are identified by the initials N.D.) is the prevention of cancer (both preventing its occurrence for the first time, or preventing its recurrence). This is achieved by educating patients on ways to reduce or eliminate risk factors that they may have (especially if there is a family history of cancer). But many people have a wrong idea of what prevention is. For instance, many people associate mammograms with breast cancer prevention. However, mammography is not a method for the prevention of breast cancer, but actually a tool for its early detection once it has developed. Likewise, the PSA test is not a method for the prevention of prostate cancer, but actually a tool for its early detection once it has developed. The real prevention of many cancers involves making lifestyle changes that reduce their risk factors, thus lowering the likelihood that they will develop.


On the other hand, once a person has been diagnosed with cancer, naturopathic medicine’s objective is to provide a natural, individualized and holistic treatment (one that takes into account the patient’s physical, mental, social, environmental and spiritual dimensions). The treatment will depend on the type of cancer the patient has, on how advanced it is, and on what conventional treatment (if any) the person is currently receiving. It is important to clarify that naturopathic medicine’s objective is not to substitute conventional medical treatment for cancer, but instead to offer complementary treatments (that is, treatments in addition to conventional ones), such that the combination of both medicines will provide greater benefits to the patient than either one by itself. However, under certain circumstances it may be appropriate to offer an exclusively naturopathic treatment to a cancer patient (explained later in this document).


The objectives of naturopathic medicine’s cancer treatment include:



A naturopathic cancer treatment involves a combination of the following therapies, all of which play an important role in the overall treatment:



It is of utmost importance for health care professionals who offer complementary cancer treatments to be knowledgeable in both natural and conventional medicine in order to avoid interfering with conventional cancer therapies that the patient may be receiving. This is very important because, contrary to the belief of many people, many natural substances (including foods, nutritional supplements and medicinal plants) can interfere with chemo or radiotherapy. It is also necessary to know when to avoid specific natural therapies that are contraindicated with some types of cancer, or when to avoid natural therapies that interfere with medications that these patients use to treat other health conditions. Naturopathic doctors receive training in both types of medicine, which enables them to offer complementary treatments in a safe and effective manner.


When should we start a naturopathic cancer treatment?


As previously mentioned, the best strategy against cancer is prevention. In that regard, it is recommended to make a preventive medicine appointment with a naturopathic doctor to evaluate the cancer risk factors that the person may have, and prepare a plan to reduce, minimize or eliminate those risks (depending on each one’s nature). The earlier in life changes are made to reduce those risks, the greater the probability of obtaining preventive benefits.


In regard to people who already have cancer, many make a naturopathic medicine appointment after undergoing conventional cancer treatment for a long time, and often as a last resort, when the conventional treatment no longer works and has nothing else to offer (when this happens, usually the patient’s cancer is in an advanced stage). This is a bad strategy. I recommend incorporating a complementary naturopathic treatment (that is, a treatment in addition to the conventional one) as early as possible, because just as it happens with conventional treatment, the earlier the naturopathic treatment is started, the better the probability to get benefits from it. Waiting until the cancer is in an advanced stage to start using naturopathic medicine makes the condition a lot harder to treat.


How about using natural treatments recommended by friends, or bought in supplement stores, or on the Internet?


Cancer is generally a very serious disease. Cancer patients who self-medicate with supplements that they buy following the advise of people who have no formal education in naturopathic medicine, or advise from people whose business is the sale of supplements, or from anecdotes that they have heard or read in a magazine or on the Internet are running a great risk. With cancer time is golden and the patient does not have the luxury of wasting it experimenting with products or therapies that either have no scientific evidence or that might be of questionable quality. It is imperative to choose, as much as possible, therapies that have scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness. Additionally, given that cancer is not a disease but rather many different diseases, an individualized, appropriate treatment is needed for the type of cancer that the patient has.


Additionally, one has to be very careful with the use of nutritional and medicinal plant supplements for the treatment of cancer for the following reasons:



For these and other reasons, it is important to avoid self-medication with nutritional or medicinal plant supplements, or with other natural substances (even food) bought in supplements stores, on the Internet or recommended by family or friends, without first seeking the advise of a naturopathic doctor.


Is it appropriate to use naturopathic medicine by itself to treat cancer?


As I previously indicated in respect to cancer treatment, the intention of naturopathic medicine is not to replace conventional medicine but rather to offer treatments to complement it. However, there are situations in which it may be appropriate to use naturopathic medicine by itself for treating cancer. Examples of such situations include:



Why choose a naturopathic doctor to provide a natural cancer treatment?


Naturopathic doctors are the only healthcare professionals in Puerto Rico who have a doctorate in naturopathic medicine which is recognized by Puerto Rico’s Department of Health and by the U. S. Department of Education. They are also the only healthcare professionals in Puerto Rico who have a doctorate in naturopathic medicine which is legally recognized in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, North Dakota, Hawaii, Idaho, the Virgin Islands, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Washington D.C and 5 Canadian provinces. Finally, they are the only health care professionals who have demonstrated their knowledge in naturopathic medicine by taking and passing 2 national board exams that cover the United States, its territories and Canada. No other healthcare professional in Puerto Rico has credentials in natural medicine comparable to those of naturopathic doctors. Once again, it is important to note that a naturopathic doctor (ND) and a naturopath (NL or “naturópata licenciado”) are very different, and that in both Puerto Rico and the United States, only naturopathic doctors (ND) can legally practice naturopathic medicine.


What takes place during the appointments?


The first visit lasts 2 hours. Its purpose is make an evaluation of the case and design a preliminary treatment plan. The medical and personal history of the patient is reviewed. In regard to the medical history, items such as the following are reviewed: evaluation by oncologist; available results of conventional studies (such as laboratory results, CT scan results, PET scan results, etc.); the conventional treatments the patient is currently receiving (incl. chemotherapy and radiotherapy); any additional health condition and any corresponding treatments being received (especially the use conventional medications, if any).  In regard to the patient’s personal history, I review diet, mental state, stress, sleep, exercise and toxic exposures, among others. I also review all natural supplements being used (if any), making sure that they are appropriate for the patient’s health conditions and that they don’t interfere with conventional medications or therapies being used (including chemotherapy and radiotherapy).


Once all the necessary information has been gathered, a naturopathic treatment plan is designed. This is a holistic and individualized plan, specific for each patient, for the type of cancer involved and for its current stage. The naturopathic treatment will consist of a combination of the therapies previously mentioned (nutritional supplements, medicinal plants, therapeutic nutrition, lifestyle changes, mental therapies, mind-body therapies, etc.). The specific types of nutritional supplements, medicinal plants and therapeutic nutrition to be used will depend on which specific conventional treatments the patient is receiving (e.g. type of chemotherapy, radiotherapy) to ensure that they will not interfere with the effectiveness and safety of the conventional therapies. I also make sure that the recommended naturopathic treatments don’t have any interactions with other medications being used to treat other health conditions. En addition to this, an important part of the naturopathic treatment is to explain to the patient the importance of each recommendation and to answer any questions that the patient may have.


Subsequent visits will be necessary to implement some specific aspects of the treatment plan - for instance, to teach the patient mind-body therapies. In addition to this, some factors will require a revision of the treatment plan (for instance, changes to the chemotherapy drugs used, or changes to other conventional therapies used by the patient).


In summary …


For those people who wish to prevent the occurrence (or recurrence) of cancer, the naturopathic doctor’s objective is to educate them on how to reduce, minimize or eliminate their cancer risk factors while promoting a state of optimum health. For those people who currently have cancer, the naturopathic doctor’s objective is to offer an individualized natural cancer treatment (usually complementary to conventional medicine) administered in a holistic, prudent and safe way, to help optimize their life expectancy, their quality of life, and their probability of cure or remission.



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© Copyright 2011 - 2015 Jeffrey Sepúlveda, ND. Naturopathic Doctor, San Juan, Puerto Rico. All Rights Reserved.

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