Cancer: doctors have been looking in the wrong place

sherlock-holmesHere’s a book on cancer that really is a game changer. Or rather, it will be if the medical establishment were to allow it to be. It is The Cancer Revolution: integrative medicine – the future of cancer care by Patricia Peat.

This book  is ‘no eccentric view from a lone maverick’ , says British health writer Jerome Burne. It contains contributions from 38 doctors, clinicians, researchers and practitioners. It doesn’t suggest conventional treatment is irrelevant. It looks at why, despite billions spent on cancer research, improvement in survival rates has been ‘pitiful’: specialists have been looking in the wrong place for better survival outcomes. Here’ a shortened version of Burne’s brilliant review with a link to the full version. – Marika Sboros


By Jerome Burne*
Twelve years ago Robin Daly’s 23-year-old daughter Bryony was dying of cancer when he set up a charity called Yes to Life to provide information about unconventional treatments such as changes in diet, supplements, vitamin C infusions, oxygen therapy and the like.

Jerome Burne

Jerome Burne

At the time, although popular, all such complementary options were sternly rejected as ineffective and possibly dangerous by conventional oncologists.

The major source of information was Dr Google but the result of putting “cancer” into the search box was a deluge of overwhelming volume of information and opinions. Informed choice was almost impossible.

Today the picture has changed. To celebrate, Yes to Life is associated with a new book, The Cancer Revolution: integrative medicine – the future of cancer care ((Win-win Health Intelligence).

It packages expert information in a clear and easily understandable way on how you can help your system handle cancer more effectively. It offers another option to relying only on ever more sophisticated ways to zap a tumour.

When Yes to Life  launched it was hard for most patients to understand what linked the various complementary options. Why should cutting out all sugar, boosting your oxygen intake and following an alkaline diet all help you to fight cancer? They seemed arbitrary and random and finding an explanation was a hit and miss process.

Today a far more coherent narrative about an alternative approach to cancer, what goes wrong and how to repair it, is emerging. The official line, that cancer is the result of random mutations that create rogue cells, which grow fast and have to be fought aggressively with surgery, radiation and drugs, is no longer as convincing as it used to be.

The sort of statements that emerge from this new approach could include: “Cancer is rather like ageing; we don’t want to beat it or fight it but manage it,”  and “Cancer is not disease, it’s a condition.”

These are not phrases from the introductory leaflet of a clinic dedicated to complementary treatments. They are the considered opinion of a report published 18 months ago by an internationally recognised scientist known for his readiness to hop over academic boundaries.



The American National Institutes of Health asked Prof Paul Davies, now Principal Investigator at Arizona State University’s Center for Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology to take a look at the disease through the eyes of a physicist whose methods and insights differed markedly from those of cancer biologists.

The Institutes’ concern was that, despite the billions spent on research,  improvement in survival rates was pitiful.The result was a report which he delivered last year to a prestigious audience in a lecture in London organised by the New Scientist magazine entitled What is cancer and how can we manage it.

This new perspective couldn’t be more firmly inside the citadel of serious respectable mainstream scientific thinking. The take-away message from Davies’s research: specialists have been looking in the wrong place.

Research and treatment, especially in the wake of the Human Genome project , has largely focused on the tumour itself. What they have been missing is the health of the surrounding cells. When they are functioning properly cancer is far less likely to develop.

To paraphrase: “It’s the environment stupid.”  It’s a fascinating approach I have summarised here.  At the same time, I wrote about another highly respected American researcher, Prof Mina Bissell, who had been investigating the cellular environment surrounding a tumour or as she called it, the “extra cellular matrix”, several decades before Davies.

Davies’ and Bissell’s work is directly relevant to anyone wanting to try tackling their cancer by putting their whole system back on track and creating a cancer-unfriendly internal environment. This involves getting high levels of oxygen, low levels of glucose and a pH balance that is more alkaline than acid. The opposite conditions make cancer more likely: low oxygen, a large and regular supply of glucose in the blood and a pH balance in the acidic direction.



None of this was news to complementary therapists but now the approach had heavyweight scientific backing. One promising dietary approach, for instance, is the very low carbohydrate or “ketogenic” diet which drastically reduces the amount of glucose available to feed cancer.

So this research has two very important implications – neither of which was likely to have been quite what the Academy of Sciences had in mind when they commissioned Davies and which the cancer establishment in the UK has done their best to ignore.

It makes the claim, enshrined in the Cancer Act, that nothing other than the official three – chemo, radiation and surgery – can possibly be of any benefit in treatment seem increasingly implausible.

None of this suggests that  conventional treatments are irrelevant, but that combined with a whole system approach the results are likely to be better. Hence the term “integrative” in the book’s title. It refers to an increasingly popular approach to chronic disorders in general – using both drugs and natural products.

The usual critique of the non-drug approach is that it lacks an evidence base but as this book makes clear, one is emerging.