Cancer treatments undergo a rethink as fasting and diet studies deepen
Could fasting and ketogenic diets make conventional cancer treatment safer and more effective and cut the "financially toxic" high costs?
World authorities on cancer causes and best treatment and prevention methods believe so. They flew into Paris for the recent Rethinking Cancer conference at France’s Gustave Roussy Institute.
Topics discussed included immunotherapy, autophagy (the body’s natural "clearing house" of debris) and longevity medicine. Age is a big cancer risk factor. Speakers showed that methods to extend healthier lifespans also offered protection from cancer.
High on the event menu were ketogenic diets (high fat, low carbohydrate, moderate to low protein), stem cell therapy advances, anti-angiogenesis (stopping cancer’s blood supply) and the metabolic model of cancer. The model holds that cancer is not genetic; it’s a mitochondrial, metabolic disease.
The Gustave Roussy Institute is France’s largest and Europe’s premier integrated cancer centre devoted to patient care and research and teaching. It is an international referral centre.
The conference hosts were its Dutch director-general, Alex Eggermont, professor of oncology at Paris-Sud University; and Bernard Escudier, who was a cardiologist before moving into renal oncology as a head of department at the institute.
Perhaps most intriguing was the conference driver – Air France captain Jean-Jacques Trochon. He brought experts working in silos in under-researched fields on to one stage for the first time. What does a pilot know about cancer research? Lots, in this case.
In 2003, doctors diagnosed Trochon with aggressive stage 2 kidney cancer. He was super-fit at the time, did triathlons and played rugby. He visits SA frequently and is Air France liaison officer with the Springboks for matches in France.
While urinating one day, he had a sudden sharp pain and his urine turned fluorescent red. Trochon knew it was bad news and rushed to the nearest clinic. Doctors did a scan and found a 7cm kidney tumour. Within 24 hours, surgeons had removed the tumour and kidney.
His doctors expected metastases (cancer spread) within months and advised chemotherapy and radiation. Trochon did research and made a daring decision: "to intelligently delay chemo and radiation". He knew he was "probably taking a risk" but his research showed the risk was calculated.
He developed a regimen of a ketogenic diet, supplements and fasting, which he still follows.
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate food regime. In medicine it is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control epilepsy in children.
Trochon’s medical team, which now includes Escudier, supported his decision. He believes it is why he is still around to share his story with doctors, scientists and patients from around the world.
Trochon doesn’t encourage others to follow his example without help. Hundreds, mainly in France, now follow his protocol under medical supervision. He is not against orthodox medicine. "It has its place but not all the answers," he says.
We should never have to poison and burn patients to treat cancerUS biochemist Thomas Seyfried
Conference speakers endorsed the sentiment. Some presented approaches as adjuncts to standard cancer care (chemotherapy and radiation), to make treatment less toxic and more effective.
Others suggested that it was time to topple chemo and radiation from their standard-of-care thrones and that there really was a "diet to starve cancer".
There was acceptance that chemotherapy and radiation can cure some cancers — blood, testicular and paediatric — and acknowledgement of well-documented risks. A speaker said most oncologists agreed there was little proof that chemotherapy (invented in the 1960s) cured other cancers.
The oncology community also "accepts but mostly avoids" an inconvenient truth: chemo-radiation causes about 50% of secondaries (unrelated cancers that develop after patients overcome the first one).
"We should never have to poison and burn patients to treat cancer," said US biochemist Thomas Seyfried, professor of biology at Boston College. Cancer was "a simple disease that we’ve made complex". It was "an industry" with "financially toxic" high costs. "The more money we throw at cancer, the more cancers we have. It’s an abomination. It doesn’t have to be that way."
Seyfried presented evidence for a "press-pulse" model he developed. It is a nontoxic, therapeutic strategy based on paleobiology and the Warburg effect. German physician and Nobel laureate Otto Warburg in the 1920s described aerobic glycolysis — a defect in mitochondrial glucose metabolism that causes glucose fermentation, diverting glucose from energy production to cell growth.
The press-pulse method of Seyfried includes ketogenic diets, drugs and hyperbaric oxygen therapy to deprive cancer cells of the fuel needed to survive – not just glucose but glutamine too.
Both caused fermentation and a "perfect storm" that "drives the cancer beast", he said.
Decline in deaths
If press-pulse became part of standard care, Seyfried said, there would be a decline in cancer deaths. He called for research into trials of gene and metabolic theories to see who emerged healthier (including financially) and cancer-free. "Only then will we know which of these possibilities is right."
Cancer surgeon and scientist at Public Hospitals of Paris Laurent Schwartz agreed. "Cancer is the Warburg effect. That’s what we face. Until proven otherwise, it’s as simple as that," he said.
Stem cell pioneer Ernest Hope is the founder of AmeReGen Biopharmaceuticals, an international venture philanthropy company. His mission is "curing cancer, not just doing a little better or prolonging life with mediocre drugs".
Hope supports ketogenic diets if patients read up or are under specialist supervision. He acknowledges where chemotherapy is effective but criticises "inappropriate, futile, cruel use", including habitual "maintenance chemotherapy" for cancer survivors. It does not make sense to use toxic drugs "just in case".
Hope is acknowledged as one of three "fathers of adult stem cells". Aged 20, he was accepted into the Max Planck Institute PhD programme of genetics and biochemistry in Cologne. He transferred to Stanford in the US, where he did a medical degree and a second doctorate in cancer biology and stem cell immunology.
At Stanford, he contributed to developing cellular intravascular targeted agent (CITA), the fifth and newest generation of bone marrow and stem cell transplantation, which works without chemo-radiation or adverse side effects.
CITA was "routine solid cancer rescue therapy technology", Hope said. It created autologous (all-patient-derived, all-natural) "rebuilt cancer immune surveillance systems for rapid cancer rescues".
"We were the first to show that it’s possible to acutely destroy [instantly, at first contact] all existing cancer blood supply only, not just prevent future blood vessels from forming [classical anti-angiogenesis]."
Hope said no other known or published "drug" could do what CITA could: achieve "perfect anti-neoangiogenesis" (formation of new blood vessels to tumour tissue).
CITAs could destroy advanced, stage 4, multidrug-resistant cancers in four hours by immediately destroying all cancer blood supply, he said. As proof, he presented case histories of patients CITA "rescued" 10 years ago from stage four, who are alive and well today. "Unlike experimental treatments, Stanford-developed CITAs are fully approved, practical innovations, available today," Hope said.
Robotic manufacturing meant CITA offered faster, cheaper, more effective therapies free of side effects for most solid cancers (tumours) and blood cancers, he said.
These will soon become available at hospitals globally, including in SA.
Harvard-trained vascular biologist and internal medicine specialist William Li said angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels) was a hallmark of all cancers. Li is CEO, president and medical director of the non-profit Angiogenesis Foundation, which he co-founded in 1994 with his mentor, Judah Folkman. It is the only organisation globally dedicated to disrupting disease through angiogenesis.
More than 70 diseases affecting billions across the planet looked different but shared a common factor: abnormal angiogenesis, Li said.
"Cancers don’t start out with a blood supply. They begin as microscopic cell nests that are probably forming all the time in our bodies," he said. "Without a blood supply, most cancers will never become dangerous."
Folkman called that "cancer without disease".
New treatments, including anti-angiogenesis drugs, were "exciting but expensive", Li said.
This has refocused the research lens on food. An obvious approach is what to strip from diets. Li took an opposite approach: what to add to diets to stop tumours’ blood supply. Mother Nature had imbued common, mostly plant-based, whole foods with antiangiogenic properties, he said.
Diet was a major conference thread. Some speakers said there was evidence for fasting and ketogenic diets only in brain cancers. Others, and Japanese research in 2016, showed the benefit of diet and nutrition for stable blood sugar levels in breast and all cancers. Escudier said there was "rationale" behind ketogenic diet and fasting. The approach "appears safe" but needed research to demonstrate efficacy.
Mazda Jenab, a scientist with the World Health Organisation’s cancer research agency, called for increased public funding for all cancer research "but particularly prevention".
In Johannesburg, specialist surgeon Carol-Ann Benn, who set up Netcare’s Centre of Excellence for Breast Health and Breast Cancer, said early research showed that good gut health (probiotics) decreased breast cancer risk.
Links between lack of sleep and obesity and obesity and breast cancer highlighted the need to consider non-drug-related factors to improve cancer outcomes. "In future, more research will consider the contribution of lifestyle factors to cancer as the immunotherapy field grows," Benn said.