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The Holistic Approach to Cancer - A Guide for Health Professionals

New Approaches to Cancer promotes the idea that the best possibility for cancer patients to produce remission is through holistic medicine and self-help. Both of these probably need some definition as there is much misunderstanding, both amongst professionals and the public, of their true meaning.

Holistic medicine is the treatment of a person at all levels of their being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual, through whatever methods are deemed best by the patient and their physician through informed consent. It does not mean that only "alternative" approaches should be used, but emphasis is on treatment of the whole person.

Self-help has also become synonymous with Mutual Support and needs to be looked at very differently. The former means very active work by the patient to change those aspects of their life that are unhelpful to their well-being, which may involve diet, psychotherapy and changes in work or relationships, whereas the latter only involved attendance at group meetings with fellow sufferers. This is not meant to imply that the mutual support is unimportant, merely that self-help entails much more, and that patients who want to follow this route should be made aware of the full possibilities. This approach is seen as threatening by some members of the medical profession as it, of necessity, involves choices outside of the medical model. Fortunately, this fear is changing, as scientific evidence increasingly demonstrates the value of the mind and diet on health and treatments such as acupuncture and homeopathy are shown to be effective in controlled trials.

So what do we mean when we talk of treating the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of a person? Let us look at each one of these separately, although it must be emphasised that they cannot be separated and each has an effect on the other.



This includes treatment by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but with informed consent and in conjunction with other treatments. In addition, it would include dietary modification, where possible without causing stress, nutritional supplementation or mega-vitamin therapy. It is well established that vegetarians are less cancer prone and recent research at Harvard has shown that protease inhibitors, found in some vegetables, actively regress human tumours in human cultures. Treatment with complementary medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism or any other that the patient wishes to try, or believes in, should also be considered.

The following brief descriptions of some of these approaches may be helpful.



The Chinese have been successfully treating cancer with acupuncture for thousands of years. Their experience is that cancer patients generally respond very well to traditional acupuncture alone, although it is in practice usually combined with dietary advice, herbal remedies and breathing/visualisation exercises.

Cancer is seen as a stagnation of meridian energy which has perhaps been building up for many years and which may derive originally from blockages on physical, nutritional, emotional and/or psycho-spiritual levels. The insertion of needles into carefully chosen points catalyses the release of their stagnant energy. Thus the patient's own self-healing powers are enabled to reduce, eliminate and heal the site of the cancer.

If the cancer has reached a more advanced stage, there is still the potential for much inner healing and personal re-integration to occur along with a significant or total reduction in any associated pain.



Iscador is a preparation made from mistletoe which is helpful to cancer patients during the post operative period to prevent recurrences, and in the treatment of inoperable cases.

It has been researched for nearly fifty years and is safe in use and improves the patient's general well-being. It is preferably given by injection and treatment must be prescribed and supervised by a doctor.


Herbal Medicine

The herbal approach is aimed at stimulating the immune system with herbs which work on the lymphatic system. Also other herbs which stimulate the circulation and aid this action by raising the temperature of the body. It is important to remove any focus of infection which will tax the immune system further - this is where anti-infective remedies play their part.

Herbal medicine is less concerned with targeting the tumour than helping the body's own defences. However, there are traditional anti-neoplastic herbs that are employed specifically to inhibit the development of tumours. Remedies might include herbs of benefit to the organ involved.

Bitter herbs are important to promote digestive function and support the liver in a detoxifying regime. While herbal diuretics help the eliminative function of the kidneys, other herbs may be used to provide a purgative action to the digestive system.


Nervous restoratives have their role in supporting the patient at a psychological level.


The Gerson Diet

The Gerson diet is a regime of strict dietary restriction (vegan to begin with) along with freshly prepared juices and coffee enemas to detoxify the liver.

It is more successful in treating some forms of cancer than others and has good results in some forms of cancer that have previously been difficult to treat, such as malignant melanoma. It is not suitable if you have had previous chemotherapy. A warning has recently been issued that you should not use alfalfa and leguminous sprouts, because of the danger of reactivating systematic lupus erythematosis and therefore potentially other auto-immune diseases.


B17 or Laetrile (obtained from apricot kernals)

The theory of action of vitamin B17 is very sophisticated, involving delivery of cyanide only to the cancer cells, while normal cells are immune. It can either be given by injection or by tablet form, though the injections are almost impossible in the UK at the present time. This treatment has been denounced as worthless by trials in America but some people have pointed out that the trials were biased. There is some doubt as to whether true Laetrile has ever been produced. You should not take more than 1gm a day for adults by mouth because of the risk of cyanide poisoning and it is better to take it in divided doses.

It needs to be used in conjunction with other methods for full benefit.



Exercise is also very important to aid blood circulation. Obviously it must be tailored to suit the individual, but swimming, cycling and walking are excellent if you have the energy.

Otherwise, systems such as Tai-Chi and yoga are very beneficial, the latter having shown benefits for cancer patients in a medical study done in the UK. Both of these systems also have mental benefits.


The old adage - mind over matter - is being shown to be increasingly true at the ultimate level of research physics and at the more mundane levels of the several thousand research projects carried out worldwide into the effects of mental states on the immune system. Known to be true by most, if not all, of the ancient systems of medicine and the most probable explanation of the "placebo effect". In this aspect of our work the patient is taught to relax and then use mental imagery to visualise the cancer being regressed. It has been found most effective if no fixed methods are used, but the patient is encouraged to develop their own visualisation which they can then change if they wish. For those patients who are unable to relax, we recommend the use of hypnotherapy - once their fears of its "Svengali" image can be overcome.



From Hipprocrates onwards until the onset of technical medicine, emotion was recognised as a causative factor in cancer. Recently, through the pioneering work of Le Shan and Mears, who have worked on this aspect for 25 years, interest and acceptance of the idea that suppressed or traumatised emotions can play their part in ill health has increased. The epidemiological evidence of higher breast cancer rates in widows and divorcees is evidence of this factor. Giving patients love, care and time can be a therapeutic process for all involved.

Since Norman Cousins wrote of his experience in reversing incurable conditions by watching Keaton, Chaplin, etc. "funnies" and recordings of "Candid Camera" more attention has been paid to the old adage that "a happy person is never ill".

In the USA there are an increasing number of hospitals that have a "Laughter Room" - surely an improvement on the dreary waiting room or corridor in which fearful and worried patients are expected to wait for hours for treatment or the results of tests.



Although this aspect covers religion, we like to emphasise that this is not its total meaning. Many patients will find comfort and new meaning in their religious beliefs and it is good that they do so. Our approach to this aspect is somewhat wider and embraces the idea of a "meaning in life" or, as Le Shan puts it, "Singing your own song". Broadly speaking this means changing life to encompass things that are meaningful to the patient as an individual and not living to externally imposed programmes. It has been observed, on many occasions, that patients who find "something to live for" often do so against all expectations. Recent research in Holland has shown that "spontaneous remission" is due to such factors.

We also recommend healing (sometimes called "the laying on of hands" or spiritual healing") as this has been found to be very beneficial by most patients. It is not necessarily related to any belief system, not does it require the patient to believe in anything, only to be open minded.



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