Monday, 19 September 2011

Medical Treatment for non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

As discussed in my previous article, Blood Cancer – Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the main form of treatment for this disease is chemotherapy which I will discuss in this article. Other treatments used include radiotherapy (the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells), monoclonal antibodies called rituximab (which can kill you, give you a heart attack and other such things despite a claim on the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research website of being “relatively non-toxic”), stem cell transplant that requires a healthy body, which of course, a cancer patient is unlikely to have as that’s why they got cancer in the first place, and targeted therapy which uses newer anticancer drugs that act directly against specific targeted molecules but is not widely used.

So exactly what is chemotherapy? As the name implies, it is the use of chemicals as therapy. The chemicals are primarily antineoplastic drugs which work against neoplastic cells.  These cells divide rapidly and make up a tissue mass which is the result of abnormal stimuli and uncoordinated with the normal tissues around it and is called a tumour. They can be benign (not harmful) or malignant (likely to spread).  Besides cancer cells, cells in the bone marrow (including white blood cells that fight infection), the digestive tract and hair follicles also divide rapidly and will be targeted by these drugs.  This is the reason that the treatment will cause three important side-effects.

Firstly there is myelosuppression, which is a decreased production of blood cells, hence also immunosuppression, which again is a likely cause of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma to begin with. So although the drugs are designed to kill the cancerous cells, they result in compromising the body’s ability to recover by hindering the performance of the immune system.

Next there is mucositis which is inflammation of the lining of the entire digestive tract, although red burn-like sores in the mouth are the tell-tale sign. I will argue in my next article that although lowering the immune response is critical, messing with the digestive system is the biggest problem with this treatment because it interferes with the body’s means of getting the nutrients it needs to thrive. This is exasperated by some of the side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, loss of taste perception, and difficulty in eating because of sore mouth ulcers.

There are five stages to mucositis which are controlled by cytokines, the last one being a healing one. “Cytokines (Greek cyto-, cell; and -kinos, movement) are small cell-signaling protein molecules that are secreted by the glial cells of the nervous system (brain cells that support neurons by providing nutrition for the neurons and protecting them from toxic molecules and infection) and by numerous cells of the immune system and are a category of signaling molecules used extensively in intercellular communication.” This is difficult to comprehend, but notice that the ever important but compromised immune system is involved again. Notice also that cells talk to one another.

Finally, there is alopecia which is easy to notice because patients using this treatment usually lose their hair – not very good for one’s self-confidence and psychological outlook, to say the least.

I think it is important to look a little closer at the CHOP drugs. This type of analysis could then be done for any other drug by those concerned even on the Internet.

Cyclophosphamide is a synthetic nitrogen mustard alkylating agent that slows or stops cell growth and decreases the immune system's response.  Nitrogen mustard is similar to mustard gas which is a chemical warfare agent that causes large blisters on exposed skin, and in principle, could be used for the same purpose. When taken internally, the agent is converted in the liver (which is probably already stressed out by toxins) with the use of oxidase enzymes to become active. However, many drugs, herbicides and pesticides contain enzyme inhibitors which would decrease the effectiveness of cyclophosphamide and should be considered when administering it in chemotherapy. I don’t think herbicides and pesticides are considered though because I doubt many doctors recommend organic food as part of the treatment or consider whether the patient is exposed to these chemicals as a farmer or resident living near a conventional farm. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency has even gone as far as to advertise that organic food is a waste of money because “in terms of nutrition, it doesn’t matter if this is made up of organic or conventionally produced food,” even though the report that was commissioned and used as the basis for this claim failed to consider pesticides or much else for that matter.

Doxorubicin pronounced /ˌdɒksəˈruːbəsɪn is an anthracycline antibiotic. Developed from soil-based microbes, scientists are not clear on how it actually works. What is clear is that “Doxorubicin's most serious adverse effect is life-threatening heart damage.” This would indicate that even if your cancer goes into remission from the treatment, you may be susceptible to dying in the near future of heart disease.

To avoid getting bogged down with the scientific specifics of how the drug performs, let me just say that Doxorubicin is an antineoplastic in the anthracycline class.  In other words, it also attacks fast growing cells and cannot discriminate between cancerous ones and blood cells in the bone marrow, etc.

Furthermore, it is not an antibiotic in that it has no microbial effect (e.g., it doesn’t kill bacteria).  It is called an antibiotic because it is isolated from one. In action, it produces significant toxicity and this is mainly what has the undesirable cardiac and cutaneous vascular effects.   So just in case you were thinking as I was that this drug was going to tackle infection fighting to make up for all the lost white blood cells that would normally do the job, please join me in thinking again.

Finally, it pains me just to think of how this drug is administered as set out by Cancer Research UK. The drug is in a red liquid that may be administered through a thin, short tube (a cannula) put into a vein in the patient’s arm for each treatment. Or, long, plastic tubes are used to feed the drug directly into a large vein in the patient’s chest. The tube stays in the patient’s chest as long as the treatment lasts. This drug is a vesicant in that any leaking into surrounding tissue will cause blistering and severe damage to the skin/muscle.

Vincristine is a plant alkaloid that also affects fast dividing cells with similar side effects. It is fed into a vein in the back of the hand (cannula), or near the collarbone (central line) or in the crook of the arm. Like Doxorubicin, it is also a vesicant (leak would damage tissue).

A mild painkiller such as paracetamol may be recommended for the pain associated with the insertion of the tube. Paracetamol is known in the US as Acetaminophen, and there is evidence that on its own it can cause liver failure, especially when there is previous liver damage. It has also been found to negatively interact with other drugs.

And the last CHOP drug, prednisoLOne, is also popular for treating inflammatory and auto-immune conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, and cluster headaches to name but a few. It is a synthetic corticosteroid and immunosuppressant drug that is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract.

Corticosteroid mimics the steroid hormone produced in the adrenal cortex (the outer layer of the adrenal gland).  The primary function of the adrenal glands is related to the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response and this hormone aids this function by increasing blood sugar (for more energy); suppressing the immune system and inflammation (to deal with after the stressful situation passes); and aiding in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism (again to increase energy).  My observation with this drug is that it puts the body in a stressed out state at a time when it desperately needs to relax, rest, build up the immune system, and deal with inflammation.  In other words, taking this drug is the equivalent of putting healing on hold and living off an artificial stimulant (a common problem today, but not one I would expect a doctor to endorse).

In summary, the most popular treatment (CHOP) consists of four drugs as follows:-
1.           Cyclophosphamide: probably won’t work effectively because of the chemicals in most people’s diet and the fact that it is highly unlikely the liver is in good functioning order, but if it does work, it will kill white blood cells thereby impairing the immune system and damages the digestive tract;
2.           Doxorubicin: attacks blood cells, damages the digestive tract, and is likely to cause heart damage;
3.           Vincristine: also kills the white blood cells and damages the digestive tract; and
4.          Prednisolone: a form of artificial stimulant which suppresses the immune system.

When fighting a disease, the immune system is of paramount importance, but meanwhile, this treatment virtually destroys it. I will explain this in a little more depth in my next article, Natural Treatment for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Regardless of this contrary approach, conventional medicine prevails. For example, the Leukemia & Lymphona Research website is mainly about drugs with only a brief mention of alternative treatments. Under the section called Beating Lymphoma it says that “Our research is pioneering new treatments that are safer and more effective.” It also says that, “For our life-saving work to continue, we need to raise over £20 million every year. I have not seen any evidence to show that they’re doing any research with organic whole foods and detoxing the body to improve the immune system and that is how I would beat lymphoma.

But what is the alternative? There are various natural alternatives available and I will discuss the one that I favour, which at the very least will show the direction we should be moving in. It just so happens that mainstream society is moving in the wrong direction, in fact, the opposite direction. I explain this in my next article.

Photo credit: Position of Central Line