A Functional Medicine Approach To The Treatment of Cancer

A record number of Hong Kong people are being diagnosed with cancer. The latest statistics from the Hong Kong Cancer Registry shows that in 2016, there was a total of 31,468 new cancer cases, hitting a record high with a 3.8% increase compared to 2015. Further, it’s estimated that new case diagnosis will rise 40% over the next ten years.

With cancer cases on the rise, it’s essential for patients to understand their treatment options. While mainstream medicine is useful and advanced enough to reduce cancer risks, functional medicine should also be considered to increase your quality of life. Here is a brief overview of how functional medicine approaches the treatment of cancer. 

What is functional medicine?

Functional medicine uses a systems-based approach focused on identifying and addressing the root causes of the disease. While modern medicine mostly uses pharmaceuticals to treat a diagnosed illness, functional medicine looks at the underlying sources that may lead to illness. From there, practitioners can create a personalised program using the most recent evidence-based investigations, monitoring systems & treatments.

The functional medicine approach is very much patient-focused, leading to an individualised treatment program for better health outcomes. 

Functional medicine and cancer treatment

Treating cancer is an example where conventional and functional medicine differs. In most cases, traditional medicine looks immediately at treating cancer itself but fails to address the cause of cancer. Doctors are too focused on diagnosing the disease based on body location and symptoms instead of the cause or mechanism involved. 

It also doesn’t help that no two cancer cases are the same. Two patients who have the same cancer and go through the same treatment may respond differently. Just because the name of the cancer is known ⁠— doesn’t mean the underlying disease is. Therefore, FM practitioners work closely with patients to address the root causes, identifying the conditions in which certain diseases thrive and allowing us to understand how to begin changing those conditions and improving patient’s quality of life. 

Prevention and treatment with functional medicine

Nowadays, patients rarely die from their primary cancer. Nearly all cancer deaths are from secondary spread, that is metastatic disease (when cancer spreads to a different body part from where it started). Therefore, prevention of meastic disease is a key factor in survival. 

Fortunately, testing and treatment for cancer are more advanced now. Using technology, we now have a range of resources to identify cancers, their origins and possibly their underlying cause. In addition, dietary knowledge is also advancing. Practitioners can now give patients accurate information and advice about lifestyle choices for cancer management, such as weight, nutrition and lifestyle improvement ⁠— all if managed well, can improve survival and quality of life. 

Testing advancement

One recent advancement in is the availability of testing to look for circulating tumour cells (CTC’s) in blood, the so-called “liquid biopsy”. After initial treatment with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy patients will usually still have positive CTC’s. 

  • High level of CTC’s and any rise over time correlates significantly with the development of metastatic spread. 
  • CTC’s will be high or rising before the spread becomes apparent, thereby giving practitioners the ability to take early action to stop the cancer long before it has the chance to grow again. 
  • CTC’s can also be tested for sensitivity to chemotherapy agents and nutritional supplements (such as intravenous Vitamin C) to allow practitioners to choose an effective treatment plan. 

Nutrition testing

Since there are still cancer cells present in the blood, a patient’s immune system will stop the formation of metastases by killing cells it recognises as cancerous. So proper immune functionality is vital. 

In FM, practitioners can test the patient’s nutrition levels to check for levels of micronutrients like Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium. These are all necessary for a healthy and functioning immune system. Any deficiencies can be readily corrected with supplements. 

We also give patients a program of nutritional supplements known to be effective against certain cancers without the side effects encountered with Chemotherapy. These supplements include; Curcumin, Omega 3 and green tea passage. 

Also, certain medications that are used for other conditions, such as Metformin (lowers blood sugar), Cimetidine (an immune stimulant) and Aspirin (anti-inflammatory) can help prevent metastases. Intravenous Vitamin C can also be given two times every week in the clinic if needed.

How OT&P can help

Patients who have been treated for cancer now have an opportunity to take control of their situation. While there is no cure for cancer yet, there are steps you can take to combat it and maximise your chances for a higher-quality life. 

Consult with a wellness practitioner

Topics: Hong Kong Health, Preventative Healthcare/Medicine, Functional Medicine

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