While natural cancer treatments are gathering momentum, integrative medicine also continues to gain ground as patients seek options outside of full-dose chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.
The demand for complementary and alternative therapies is increasing in the United States. The American Hospital Association (AHA) reported in 2011 that 42 percent of responding hospitals offer one or more Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies, up from 37 percent in 2007, and 26 percent in 2005. The results showed that the hospitals most likely to offer CAM were urban and tended to be either medium-size (50-299 beds) or large (500+ beds) institutions.
Dr. Jonathan Stegall is among the health care professionals at the forefront of the integrative cancer treatment movement. Dr. Stegall, who specializes in integrated oncology, heads The Center for Advanced Medicine in Atlanta. His credentials are impeccable: Clemson, Georgetown, Harvard, the Medical University of South Carolina, and Yale.
However, cancer left its mark on him at an early age. When Dr. Stegall was 5, his grandmother developed stomach cancer. He saw firsthand how chemotherapy and radiation take a toll on a loved one's body.
“When I got into my medical training, I always knew cancer was a very aggressive, potentially nasty disease,” he said. “I noticed I could connect with [patients] on a spiritual level, a social level and really support them in those ways.
“But when it came to medical treatments, I felt like we really didn't have enough tools at our disposal. … I started to develop a more integrative approach — took the best of what I'd been trained and the best of the nutritional and natural side.”
Nourishing the soul
Dr. Stegall understands that diet plays a key role in natural cancer treatment and prevention. During the consultation with a prospective client, he stresses the importance of nutrition, which is vital to the integrative treatment process. He also knows there is an emotional side.
“Anytime a patient hears those three words — ‘You have cancer' — a flood of emotions come over them: fear, sadness, maybe anger,” Dr. Stegall noted. “We know that over time, those emotions when they are sustained, they do change the body's physiology and biochemistry.
“We talk a lot in my office about nourishing the soul,” he said. “I ask every single patient if they have a religious or spiritual practice — and if so, that needs to be nurtured. We know that patients who are prayed for have better outcomes — so I do pray for all my patients, and I encourage them to do the same.”
On top of the mental aspect, the physical changes a patient embraces include lifestyle. Dr. Stegall emphasizes daily affirmations. “Put them on your fridge, your bathroom mirror, and say them at least twice a day, aloud, and really think about what they mean — and say them until you mean them.”
Advances in cancer treatment have led to the realization that this is not a genetic disease as much as a metabolic disease. “I don't think we're going to find just one thing that cures cancer,” Dr. Stegall said. “For most patients, it's going to be a combination of things.”
Finding that “combination of things” to help someone fight cancer is where integrative medicine becomes part of the equation. Dr. Stegall believes there is a place for chemotherapy in cancer treatment regimens, and he offers fractionated chemo.
“A lot of patients coming in say, ‘Chemotherapy is poison, it's a toxin,' ” he said. “We've all seen those patients who've had high-dose chemotherapy — their hair falls out, they're tired all the time, they can't eat, they have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea … a very low quality of life.
“We know [chemotherapy] kills cancer cells. The problem is, it also kills the healthy cells, and a lot of time you can win the battle but lose the war when that's your main strategy.
“I use low-dose chemotherapy — about 10 percent of what a conventional oncologist would use.”
‘A heat-seeking missile'
Dr. Stegall's approach takes advantage of the cancer cells' desire for insulin, for sugar, by utilizing Insulin Potentiation Therapy (IPT). “If we think of chemotherapy as an atom bomb that kills cancer and healthy cells with a lot of collateral damage,” he said, “the way I do fractionated chemo, with IPT, can be thought of like a heat-seeking missile — we're better able to target those cancer cells, individually, while mostly sparing the healthy cells.”
He is involved with several cancer-centric groups, including the non-profit Best Answer for Cancer Foundation and the International Organization of Integrative Cancer Physicians (IOICP), which shares information, research, and collaborates on IPT and other targeted cancer therapies and their effectiveness when combined with selective complementary therapies.
“Patients cannot go about this alone,” Dr. Stegall said. “We encourage spouses, family members, friends to be involved in a supportive, loving way in that care. For many patients, it's an opportunity to strengthen those relationships.
“We tell patients, ‘You're family when you become a patient here.' … We're going to love you, lock arms with you, and go after this the best we can.”
Bottom line: Integrative medicine is a bridge between conventional medicine and natural cancer treatment. Your body will respond to a healthier lifestyle, as well as a doctor-recommended treatment targeted to address your specific needs.