Integrative Cancer Research: Surviving Chemo & Radiation

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To survive actually means more than to simply exist or to live, following a traumatic event or challenge. The word derives from the Latin supervivere which means "live beyond, live longer than," which itself comes from super "over, beyond" + vivere "to live." Surviving therefore technically has a meaning closer to thrive -- and that is the goal of this article: to provide those who are choosing to undergo conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy-based cancer treatments with information that they and their health care professionals may use to improve treatment and survival outcomes.

How do we accomplish this? First and foremost, by providing access to the body of experimental research indicating that a wide variety of natural substances -- many of which are spices, foods or vitamins -- may reduce the adverse effects of these treatments, while simultaneously improving their efficacy.

Of course, most of this research is done through non-human experiments, due to the lack of capital available for demonstrating the therapeutic value of non-patentable substances through the human clinical trials now required for FDA drug approval. This does not, however, mean that the animal and cell research we have gathered is not compelling. At the least, it should be reviewed with careful consideration to the potential risks and benefits, both in using them and in not using them.

Many of the most commonly used forms of chemotherapy target the fast-replicating cells, tricking them into incorporating deadly chemicals within their DNA, like fluoride or platinum, or by otherwise blocking some key cog in the machinery of DNA replication or translation.

Unfortunately, not all fast-replicating cells in the body are cancerous, and in fact, some cancer cells may be slower replicating (cancer initiating cells (TICs),* for instance) or highly resistant to these sorts of chemicals already. This means that chemotherapies where damaging the DNA (genotoxicity) is the mechanism of action, healthy and malignant cells are indiscriminately destroyed within the body, often leading to devastating adverse effects including death. This is such a serious problem that a massive body of research already exists on natural substances which reduce chemotherapy-induced toxicity. The problem is not that chemotherapy-induced toxicity cannot be mitigated, rather, that the conventional oncology community rarely does anything to incorporate this body of wisdom into their practice. If the reason provided is that "these are not FDA approved drugs," you might want to have a discussion about why this is the case, and will remain so until those practicing medicine and not simply applied pharmacology start making the health of their patients their first priority.

Fortunately, also, there are certain natural compounds that have the demonstrated ability to both enhance the destructiveness and targeting ability (known as "selective cytotoxicity") of chemotherapy drugs to cancer cells, while simultaneously protecting healthy cells from their toxicity. The following list contain both chemosensitizing and chemoprotective properties.

Compelling Substances

1) Curcumin

2) Resveratrol

3) Vitamin E

4) Ginger

5) Sulforphane

References obtained using the Smart Search

Radiotherapy, also works in virtually the same was as the type of chemotherapy discussed above. Faster replicating cells when exposed to radiation are more likely to undergo irreparable errors in their DNA than slower replicating ones. Either their replicational or transcriptional mechanisms fail, resulting in programmed or necrotic cell death -- the ultimate goal of cancer treatment. And yet, this means that the measure of radiotoxicity is not whether a cell is malignant or benign, rather, simply the rate at which it replicates. Many normal cells replicate quite rapidly; for example, intestinal cells, undergo complete cell turnover within 2 days, making them extremely sensitive to the negative effects of radiation when exposed collaterally. And as mentioned with chemotherapy, the actual cancer-initiating cells (CICs) (also known as "cancer stem cells") which are responsible for generating the daughter cells that make up the bulk of a tumor, but are not themselves self-renewing, replicate infrequently or at a slower rate and therefore are actually relatively resistant to radiotherapy.

This problem was addressed recently in the journal Breast Cancer Research in an article titled "Survival and self-renewing capacity of breast cancer initiating cells during fractionated radiation treatment." Published in 2010, the researchers reported:

We demonstrated that irradiated [breast] CICs survived and retained their self-renewal capacity for at least four generations. We show that fractionated radiation not only spared CICs but also mobilized them from a quiescent/G0 phase of the cell cycle into actively cycling cells, while the surviving non-tumorigenic cells were driven into senescence. [emphasis added]

Given these findings, it is likely that radiotherapy is actually weeding out the less malignant tumor cells populations, which happen to replicate more rapidly and therefore are more susceptible to dying when exposed to radiation, while actually making the cells that initiate and feed the tumor more malignant. This was the subject of our recent article "Does Chemo & Radiation Making Cancer More Malignant?"

Radiation therapy also plants the invisible seeds of future cancers within the DNA of healthy cells, sometimes leading to precancerous and cancerous cellular traits years, even decades after the original exposure. It also causes oxidative stress and similar damaging effects to tissues and organs collaterally exposed; for instance, when women undergo radiotherapy post lumpectomy, their lungs and hearts are well known to be subject to harm.

Thankfully, there are a wide range of experimentally tested and effective radioprotective and radiosensitizing substances. Here are 5 of the most compelling:


1) Curcumin

2) Bee propolis

3) Vitamin E

4) American Ginseng

5) Holy Basil


1) Curcumin

2) EGCG (a green tea extract)

3) Resveratrol

4) Genistein

5) Beta-glucan

To view the actual studies associated with this list, visit and go to the pharmacological actions: radioprotective and radiosensitizing

We are also making available a free PDF download of the radioprotective/radiosensitizing research using our proprietary GMI-Search and GMI-Pub technology.

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*Also known as "cancer stem cells" (CSCs), and while being the productive factories behind tumor cell growth, producing daughter cells characterized by rapid replication, these cells possess several key properties associated with normal cells, with infrequent or slow replication being the most problematic from the perspective of conventional cancer treatments

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