Sign and symptons

Cancer is caused by abnormal and uncontrolled division of cells, which causes tumours and interferes with normal body functions. Although it’s one of the most common diseases in the West, many cases are treatable and some may be preventable.

There are more than 200 different types of cancer. Some of the most common are those of the breast, bowel, skin, lung, stomach, ovary and prostate. Signs that may indicate cancer and that warrant immediate further investigation are:

* lumps or discharge from the breast
* blood in the stool or urine
* vaginal bleeding after sex or between menstrual cycles
* moles changing in shape or size
* unexplained weight loss
* persistent abdominal pain
* unexplained, intense headaches
* difficulty in swallowing, or constant hoarseness and sore throats
* a testicular lump or change in shape or size of the testicles.


Normal cells are thought to transfer into cancer cells because of a number of factors including genetic predisposition, physical and psychological make-up, hormonal status and lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, stress levels and exposure to toxins, for example through smoking.
Orthodox treatments

Patients often undergo surgery to remove tumours and diseased tissue. Chemotherapy (drug treatment) and radiotherapy (x-ray treatment or other types of radiation) are used to destroy cancer cells, while hormonal therapy may be used to prevent a cancer growing or recurring after treatment. These approaches may be used individually or in combination. Diet and lifestyle advice may also be given.
Complementary approaches

* Dietary therapy – considerable research has shown that diets low in fat, moderate in protein (preferably derived mainly from vegetarian sources) and high in vegetables, fruit, wholegrains and fibre can help to limit the growth of tumours and may help to prevent cancer. Soya protein in particular has been found to inhibit the growth of breast, liver, colon and prostate tumours. Personalised dietary programmes are best according to individual symptoms.

* Nutritional therapy – vitamins C, E and A, the minerals selenium and zinc, bioflavonoids, essential fatty acids (found in fish and plant oils), B vitamins and co-enzyme Q10 have all been found to play a significant role in preventing the growth of tumours and the spread of cancer cells. Personalised nutritional programmes based on assessment of individual nutrient status are advisable.

* Herbal medicine – several herbs have been found to contain potent anti-cancer agents. These include the Chinese herbs astragalus and ginseng, various types of therapeutic mushrooms including the Japanese mushroom shiitake, the Andean rainforest herb uncaria (Cat’s claw), various Ayurvedic herbs and the Western herbs saw palmetto, garlic and a combination herbal formula based on slippery elm, burdock root, sorrel and other herbs known as essiac.

* Acupuncture and acupressure – the wrist point pericardium 6 (pressed by hand or using commercial wristbands) has been found effective in reducing nausea associated with chemotherapy. Acupuncture can also reduce pain and improve the health of affected organs.

* Naturopathy – a combination of dietary advice, nutrient assessment, testing for allergens and lifestyle advice may be used to boost the body’s natural healing ability.

* Stress-relief – massage, aromatherapy, reflexology, relaxation training, creative visualisation and biofeedback can all help reduce stress and promote the body’s natural healing mechanisms.

* Exercise therapies – the Chinese exercise therapy qigong has been shown in numerous clinical studies to be helpful in the treatment and prevention of cancer. Yoga and t’ai chi, as well as regular exercise such as walking andswimming, may also be helpful.

* Healing – some patients have reported improvements or even cures through the laying on of hands and other types of spiritual healing, but there’s no hard evidence to back up such claims. Others have reported feeling relaxed, less anxious and more able to cope with their illness.

Self-help tips

* Decrease your intake of red meat, dairy produce, sugar, refined flour, salt,alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants.
* Eat more fresh vegetables and fruit, wholegrains and soya products (use organic, non-GM produce where possible).
* Stop smoking.
* Take antioxidant nutrients, such as selenium, vitamins A, C and E, and essential fatty acids (such as fish oils, borage oil, flaxseed oil) on a regular basis. A balanced multivitamin and mineral supplement may also be useful.
* Practise self-care. Examine yourself regularly, avoid unprotected sun exposure and unprotected sex.
* Take regular exercise and watch your weight.
* Make time for rest and relaxation and find ways of relieving and reducing stress in your life.
* Use positive thinking techniques, affirmations and creative visualisation to maintain a positive attitude to life and stimulate the body’s natural healing processes.
* Seek professional advice immediately if you notice any warning signs of cancer. Early detection is crucial to successful treatment and cure.

This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Stephen Hopwood in April 2009.

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