Cancer stem cell research in integrative practice

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There is value in all systems of medicine, but conventional cancer care can fall short, said Holly Lucille, ND, RN, owner of Humility Inc., at the 2020 Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City.

The American Cancer Society was founded in 1913 to eliminate cancer and since then billions of dollars have been spent on finding a cure. There are more nonprofit organizations dedicated to cancer than heart disease, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke combined, Lucille said. The failure rate of potential new cancer treatments in clinical trials is 95 percent, she said.

“Beyond all of the pink and promises, cancer happens,” said Lucille. “And I think we can help do something about it.”

Conventional cancer treatment is effective in about 50 percent of cases, Lucille said. Chemotherapy works, but the higher the dosage, the greater the potentially life-threatening side effects. Further, cancer patients rarely die from the original tumor but rather from metastasis cancer recurrence, or immunosuppression.

In the medical field, there is not a consensus about what a stem cell is or what they are capable of, particularly regarding cancer, Lucille said. Generally, stem cells are unspecialized cells with the potential to develop into different cell types. They are capable of renewal through cell division even after long periods of inactivity. Under certain conditions stem cells can become tissue or organ specific with special functions.

Stem calls can be the hero and the villain, Lucille said. However, the most significant risk factor for cancer is having had cancer. Cancer leaves behind cancer stem cells that can be come treatment resistance and re-emerge later.

According to the proposed Stem Cell Theory of Cancer by Stanford University School of Medicine in California, “among all cancerous cells, a few act as stem cells that reproduce themselves and sustain the cancer, much like normal stem cells normally renew and sustain our organs and tissues. In this view, cancer cells that are not stem cells can cause problems, but they cannot sustain an attack on our bodies over the long term.”

Cancer stem cells self-renew, resist drugs and radiation, are highly adaptive, have a high proliferation capacity, and are tumorigenic, Lucille said. Stem cells in general can reproduce themselves and create other kinds of cells. Stanford researchers have found that it is likely stem cells accumulate the DNA damage to create a malignant cell in the first place.

Lucille said there is a way to use chemotherapy sparingly with optimal effectiveness, in conjunction with natural chemotherapy and radiation potentiators. Cancer is a complex disease, and targeting only one pathway is not the answer, she said. When using conventional treatment, the goal should be to minimize exposure and toxic effects, reduce resistance to convention treatment, and increase effectiveness.

Although chemotherapeutic and moleculartargeted drugs can attack most cancer cells, cancer stem cells can evade these agents, leading to tumor regrowth. Combination therapy with cancer stem cell (CSC)-targeting agents and conventional drugs is predicted to be more effective because it eliminates both CSCs and non-CSC tumor cells, Lucille said.

Lucille suggests integrative interventions that include chemotherapy and radiosensitization, chemotherapy potentiation, and reduction and elimination of cancer stem cells. Her approach includes:

  • Curcumin from turmeric, which stops cancer cell formation, growth, and spread
  • 5-flurouracil (5-FU), which when used in conjunction with curcumin attenuates chemoresistance
  • Boswellia, which has effects on 5-lipoxygenase inflammation pathway
  • Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs), which has vasodilatory actions

Panax red ginseng research is expanding dramatically and has been shown to potentially reverse chemotherapy resistance in oxaliplatin-resistant colon cancer cells, improve cyclophosphamide induced immunocompetence, protect the liver from Cisplatin-induced damage, inhibit melanoma-induced angiogenesis, Lucille said.

The bottom line, Lucille said, is that cancer happens. Mainstream interventions are effective, but come with a cost. Applying integrative medicine principles with conventional treatment works to decrease mortality and efficacy of treatment.

“We’re talking about treating the terrain not the tumor,” Lucille said. “Prevention is the cure.”