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by Ric Saguil, MD, FAAFP

Cancer is the number two killer of Americans just behind heart disease. While science and technology have made a major dent in reducing the number of patients dying from heart disease traditioanl medicine has yet to show significant progress in managing cancer cases. The word itself, "cancer" strikes fear into our hearts.

The best prognosis for most cancer outcomes is early detection. This is accomplished with annual physicals and routine screenings. The best methods to avoid cancer is a healthy diet, regular exercise, keeping one's weight inline and being aware of and avoidance of carcinogens.

Once you or a loved has been given the cancer diagnosis your lives change. In her book "On Death and Dying" Elizabeth Kibler-Ross listed the 5 emotions that a cancer victim goes through. The first Denial, this isn't happening to me, there must be a mistake in my diagnosis. The second Anger, why is this happening to me? The third the Pledge, "I promise I'll be a better person if . . ." The fourth Depression, I don't care anymore. And the last Acceptance, I am ready for whatever comes.

It's the fifth and last step, Acceptance, where most patients decide to hunker down for the battle. Once diagnosed with cancer, unlike heart disease, the directions for the fight are unclear. With heart disease we've learned that making lifestyle changes can dramatically improve our chances for survival. With cancer we are learning too that survival can be impacted by making lifestyle alterations. While today's treatments offer hope, most cancer victims feel that they are not in control. It's only natural to want to fight cancer anyway you can. A strong complementary team can help point you in the right direction.

physician_consultation2.jpgAccording to the National Cancer Institute many people choose a complementary approach when diagnosed with cancer. The reasons vary but patients often report that CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) helps them cope with the side effects of cancer treatments, such as nausea, pain, and fatigue. We know it also helps strengthen the systems that are responding to the fight. There is a positive psychological impact as well. No longer the victim they now become the combatant. They are doing something proactive with their care, affords them a sense of comfort with hope which helps to ease the worries associated with cancer treatment and adds another weapon in their battle against cancer.

We practice in complementary medicine not alternative medicine.  Complementary medicine recommends the use of alternative therapies in conjunction with conventional cancer care. Alternative on the other hand suggests that you abandon traditional cancer care for unconventional treatment methods.

"It's important to know when and where complementary treatments are appropriate," says Ric Saguil, MD head of primary care and integrative medicine at First Health. "We categorize cancer care into four phases each has a distinct approach".

Prevention is the first phase and requires becoming knowledgeable about our daily habits and beginning the changes necessary to decrease our odds of acquiring the disease. Beginning the transition to whole (less processed) foods, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, regular exercise and avoidance of activities known to cause cancer like microwaving foods in plastic containers or smoking.

The second phase is the Precancerous Phase. When a patient is told they are precancerous it basically means that they have tissue that has altered and will with great likelihood to become cancerous. Here our approach is to stop the activity that may be causing the change, promote activities that can assist in reversal and strengthen the system that is affected. A good example would be intestinal polyps. Here we recommend an array of self-care ideas including eating less processed foods, avoiding spicy foods, increasing dietary fiber, flushing our systems with an abundance of water and regular exercise.

In the active cancer phase we recommend working closely with your oncologist and immediately beginning the battle with the purest of diets, mind, exercise, etc. We work closely with the patient's oncologist to assure that there is no conflict between chemotherapy and natural remedies. There is still a lot a patient can and should do in this phase to strengthen themselves for the fight.

The fourth phase is the remission phase. Once you've beat the active disease doesn't mean you should go back to old habits. Quite the contrary, you've been given a second chance and it's time to learn from past mistakes. The steps here are almost the same as the precancerous phase in that once a vulnerable system has been identified it's time to support the entire body but with emphasis on the weakened system. If you had skin cancer the obvious is to avoid the sun, but your body still needs vitamin D to fight against possible recurrence. Supplementing your diet with vitamins A, C, E, D and selenium is just as important, as these all have antioxidant, anticancer or immune boosting properties.

Research has proven that you can strengthen your immune system through lifestyle changes. We now know exercise and diet act as preventatives. And we know that a positive outlook also works much the same way. So assuming a proactive posture and the willingness to fight makes sense.

Using the same strategy to fight cancer as we recommend preventing cancer makes a world of sense. We recommend our patients use every means available to battle cancer. Using a complementary approach (combining conventional therapies with dietary, exercise and attitude changes) affords our patients the best opportunity for success.