Cancer Prevention

Once cancer develops it is very difficult to treat, as the cancer cells take on lives of their own. Fortunately, there have been many advances in recent years in treatments, both from the Western medical model, as well as in the Natural Medicine field.

Prevention, however, remains our best defense.  Therefore, it is extremely important to understand and practice  the myriad of health practices known to prevent cancer.

Following are some of the many reasons why cancer is such a difficult disease to treat and cure.

• By the time cancer is detected, it may have gone through millions of cell divisions or “doublings,” growing from a microscopic state into a well-entrenched tumor. Doubling allows tumors to grow incredibly quickly.

• Individual tumors contain variants that can develop resistance to drugs

• Tumors ignore the normal “stop” signals other cells usually obey.  This ignorance mechanism enables cancer cells to invade adjacent tissue areas.

• Cancer cells can detach from a tumor and remain alive as they travel through the blood stream, forming new tumors at distant sites. Normal cells cannot do this, as they must remain attached to the membranes that feed them.

• People who are born with less ability to repair their DNA are at a far greater risk of getting certain cancers.

• Cancer cells can send out chemical signals that cause the formation of new blood vessels so they feed themselves.

• Tumors form a fibrous outer coat that protects them against immune system attack.

• Tumors have the ability to turn off the immune system—a process called anergy.

• Cancer cells defy the normal “programmed death” or apoptosis process that controls normal cells, and causes them to die as they age or are damaged. Thus cancer cells are, in a sense, immortal.

Following are lists of many foods and nutritional supplements that are believed to help prevent and/or slow the progression of cancer. While not proven to be cures by themselves, all of them have shown the ability to influence the cancer process. It is very likely, almost certain, that compounding several of these nutrients can create superior effects, due to synergistic action.  I like to incorporate as many of the following nutrients as I can into my daily regimen. I favor the food agents and rotate the nutritional supplements.  Considering that so many people do not eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables, I believe that reading this information is a graphic way to drive this prevention information into the consumer consciousness.

Foods that researchers believe can help prevent cancer include apples, beans (including soybeans), beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, citrus fruits, cumin, flaxseed oil, garlic, grapes, green vegetables, kale, olive oil, onions, parsley, pineapple (bromelain), raspberries, red pepper, soybean products, squash, tangerines, tomatoes (lycopene), yogurt (and probiotics), strawberries, and wheat bran (Meydani and  Ha, 2000, de Roos and Katan, 2000, Yance, 1999, Macrae, 1999, Murray, 1993, Duke, 1997, Gann,  et al., 1999, Newmark, 1999, Eckert, 1999, Kapadia GJ et al., 1996, Seeger, 1967 ). Most of the research focuses on specific phytochemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids.

Broad-spectrum multi-vitamins and multi-minerals.
Free radicals damage our DNA, so foods, vitamins and herbs that neutralize free radicals are important preventive agents. There are numerous studies on the protective effects of anti-oxidants, so these nutrients are essential in any cancer prevention program, although there has been less research than one would imagine for many common nutrients.  For the rest, however, the evidence is solid. For example, we know that selenium, at a dose of 200 mcg. per day, reduces prostate cancer rates by two thirds (Christen et al., 2000, Maxwell, 1999, Cravo et al., 1998, Yoshizawa K  et al., 1998, Bostick, 1997, Buiatti E  et al., 1996, Schrauzer et al., 1985).

Cellular antioxidants. Glutathione peroxidase, catalase, methionine reductase and SOD help protect against cancer vis antioxidant and cell growth regulatory effects, and by helping in DNA repair (Cascinu et al., 1995, Smyth et al., 1997). Glutathione is especially important, and is found in wheat sprouts.  Flavonoids found in fruits and plants (especially anthocyanins, anthocyanidins, proanthocyanins and proanthocyanidins) help to recirculate and keep glutathione in circulation, as well as having many other anti-cancer effects (reported in Yance, 1999).

Lipoic acid. This unique water/fat soluble anti-oxidant has shown evidence of inhibiting NF kappa-B from activating cancer-causing oncogenes. Use 100-200 mg per day in divided doses (Yance 1999, Sen, 1998, Baur et al., 1991).

Chinese herbal medicines have been shown in numerous studies to exhibit a wide variety of anti-cancer and chemotherapy protection effects, including increased remission rates, slowing progression, anti-oxidant effects, and immune system enhancement (Thatte U et al., 2000, Duda RB et al., 1999, Huang, 1999, Kupin VI et al. 1986, Long & Mong, 1992, Dharmananda, 1988, Lee YS et al., 1997, Murayama T et al., 1992, Park HJ et al., 1998, Rui H., 1997, Zhao KS et al., 1990, Yun, 1999).

N-acetylcysteine (NAC). This nutrient is currently under investigation by the National Cancer Institute because it has the ability to significantly decrease the incidence of cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions induced by several chemical carcinogens in rodents. Benefits were shown for lesions in the colon, lung, liver, bladder, skin and breasts (De Flora et al., 1995). It has also shown potential as an inhibitor of metastasis (Albini et al., 1995).

Medicinal Mushrooms.  Many of the medicinal mushrooms, including chaga mushroom, maitake mushroom, ganoderma mushroom and cordyceps mushroom contain cancer-preventive and cancer-fighting actions. Research has focussed on the polysaccharides with beta 1,3 glucan linkages (Fulda S et al., 1997, Kubo K et al.1994, Ross GD et al. 1999, Kurashige S, et al, 1997, Lieu CW et al., 1992, Nanba H, et al, 1997, Okai Y et al. 1997, Wang SY et al. 1997).

Cruciferous vegetables. Indole-3-carbinol is a nutrient found in large quantities in cruciferous vegetables.  It is a potent antagonist of breast cancer, reducing formation of cancerous compounds from hormones, and participating in blockage of cancer cell progression. A controlled clinical trial using 300 mg. per day on 60 women confirmed it as a promising breast cancer prevention agent (Bradlow HL et al., 1999, Wong GY et al., 1997).

Curcumin from Turmeric root. Studies show that curcumin (active ingredient) inhibits cancer cell proliferation in a variety of ways, and helps induce programmed cell death, or apoptosis (Lin JK et al., 1999, Antony et al., 1999, Kawamori T, 1999).

Coenzyme Q10. Numerous holistic physicians are reporting a benefit in preventing and treating breast cancer. The preventive dose is 50 mg. per day, while for cancer treatment the dose is 200 mg. three times per day.  According to one report, “overt complete regression of the tumors in two cases of breast cancer . . . (and) numerous metastases in the liver of a 44-year-old patient ‘disappeared,’ and no signs of metastases were found elsewhere” (Lockwood et al., 1995, Lockwood et al., 1994).

Milk thistle seed.  The milk thistle extract silymarin has shown an anticarcinogenic effect in human breast cancer cells, arresting cell cycle progression. Use from 140-250 mg standardized silymarin extract one to three times per day (Lahiri-Chatterjee M, et al, 1999, Zhao J et al., 1999, Zi X et al., 1998).

Soybean extracts. Scientists have demonstrated the protective effects of soybean components, via a variety of mechanisms, on breast cancer, prostate cancer and urinary tract cancer (Aronson et al., 1999, Su SJ et al., 2000, Hellerstein, 2000, Balabhadrapathruni et al., 2000). The component called genistein has been shown not only to prevent cancer, but also to impede proliferation and induce differentiation. (Choi YH, 2000). Chinese women and men use soybean products about twice per week, so this appears to be a good level for protection. In response to concerns about promotion of cancer in women with estrogen-dependent tumors, the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada did a controlled clinical study and concluded that soy consumption did not increase the risk for hormone-dependent cancers (Jenkins DJ, 2000).

Tangerines. Dr. William Mitchell, ND reported evidence that bioflavonoids found in the peel of tangerine can strengthen epithelial cells in such a way as to inhibit metastasis of cancer. This bioflavonoid, called tangeritin, increases the functional integrity of E-cadherin, a cell-to-cell adhesive protein.  Tangerines can therefore be used as a preventative (Mitchell, 1998, Eckert K et al., 1999).  The recommended dose is one tangerine per day, making sure to eat the juice as well as the white parts behind the rind (scrape them off with your teeth). If the peel is organic, save it, dry it in the oven and grind it up.  You can add it to food, thus making use of the whole fruit. The recommended dose of dried peel is one to two teaspoons per day.

Ayurvedic herbs and herbal formulas
.  Ayurvedic tonic herbs have a long historical background of use in cancer, and a few recent studies have shown extraordinary anti-oxidant effects (Jeena KJ, et al, 1999, Nandi P, et al, 1997, Bajracharya, 1987, Prashar R et al., 1998, Fields et al., 1991, Rao AR, 1981).

Garlic bulb.  Numerous studies have shown immunological benefits, and a few studies indicate benefits for oral and prostate cancers (Lamm and Riggs, 2000, Tang Z et al. 1997).

Guggul gum.  This herb, used commonly for cholesterol reduction, has a long historical record of use by Ayurvedic doctors in treating cancer (Bajracharya, 1987).

Green tea. Numerous studies indicate preventive and anti-cancer effects via several mechanisms, including protection against chemical carcinogens, inhibition of tumor promoting substances, inhibiting cell division, and inducing apoptosis.  Drink two to three cups of tea per day (Fujiki H, 1999, Aucamp J et al., 1997, Brown MD, 1999, Hirose M et al., 1994, Katiyar SK, et al 1997, Kuroda Y, et al, L’Allemain G., 1999, Wang ZY et al., 1994).

Of course, prevention is far more involved than nutrients and herbs. Things such as cutting back on sugar intake, exercising regularly, avoiding excess sun and wearing sunglasses, using air filters, and other habits and lifestyle choices all qualify as important preventive measures.


Berberine is another compound found in many Chinese and Ayurvedic plants with many studies showing effect in cancer.

Research Highlights
The effects of preventive herbal medicine treatments are easier to measure when studies are done on pre-cancerous lesions. If such lesion can be made to regress, it is a clear sign of the preventive power of the treatment.

• In one study, the Beijing Academy of TCM used the classic rehmannia six formula to treat patients with pre-cancerous lesions of the esophagus. After five years, 8.4% of the treated group developed esophageal cancer, as compared to 25.5% of the untreated controls (Long & Mong, 1992).

• Scientists at the Hebei Cancer Institute did a similar study using cang dou pills.  They followed 648 cases and after two years, 4.2% of the untreated controls developed esophageal cancer, in comparison to 1.5% of the treated group (Hou & Yan, 1992).

• In a multi-center, double blind, controlled trial, beta-carotene was shown to produce regressions in patients with pre-malignant oral lesions.  Subjects were given beta-carotene at a dose of 60 mg/d, or placebo, for six months. Of the treated subjects, 52% responded with regressions (Garewal et al., 1999).

• In a controlled blind clinical trial, a 400-i.u. dose of Vitamin E was shown to regress small intestinal metaplasia (precancerous tissue changes). After 12 months, 10 of 14 patients (71%) showed no signs of metaplasia (Bukin et al., 1997).