One of the scarier words we can hear in relation to ourselves or a loved one is cancer, second of which is recurrence. As a Naturopathic Physician that has focused on supportive cancer care for over a decade, I am often asked by patients “why has this cancer returned?” or alternately, “how do I keep this cancer from coming back?” I frequently find myself explaining the role of cancer stem cells or “cancer seeds.”
There has been a lot of press surrounding healthy stem cells—especially embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells arise several days after fertilization of an egg, and they have the capacity to become any cell in the body when given the right signals. We also have adult stem cells that differentiate or mature into healthy organ, muscle, and bone tissue. These stem cells serve as a repair system for the body.
Why Chemotherapy and Radiation Don’t Always Work
What science has known since the mid-1990’s is that cancers also have progenitor cells, called cancer stem cells. Like a seed, these cells are relatively quiescent, but have the ability to mature into full-fledged cancer cells. Because they are metabolically slower and do not divide rapidly like a mature cancer cell, they are immune to conventional treatments of chemotherapy and radiation. They essentially weather the chemical and radioactive storm, then sprout a new cancer once the storm has passed. Unfortunately, the second cancer is often treatment resistant and tends to be more aggressive. In addition, some of the unique properties of cancer stem cells can lead to metastasis by seeding the cancer throughout the body.
Botanical Medicine and Cancer
While chemotherapy and radiation do not address cancer stem cells, our botanical allies do. Many of the targeted botanicals we prescribe in patient protocols, including curcumin, resveratrol, and green tea, address several cancer-promoting pathways such as inflammation. Additionally, they directly inhibit the growth of cancer stem cells. When looking at effective cancer care, our strategy is to combine conventional tumor-reducing treatments with the subtler action of botanicals that address cancer stem cells. Overall, this integrative approach supports our patients in living longer, healthier lives.
If you would like to hear more on this topic, please join me at my Zoom presentation + Q&A on September 24th at 11 AM. Visit https://medericenter.org/resources/event-calendar.html/calendar/2020/9 for the Zoom link. If you are not able to attend live, look for an archived recording at medericenter.org.