Good news for mouth and throat cancer patients
August 7th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
If you had been diagnosed with cancer of the mouth or throat 30 years ago, your treatment options would have been barbaric.
Five days a week for six or seven weeks, you’d undergo chemotherapy or radiation and battle side effects that would make you feel sicker than the cancer did.
Disfiguring surgery to remove the tumor was also likely. You’d have to “go under the knife” as a surgeon cut through your face and jaw. The aftermath was horribly painful and recovery times were long. Patients often lost the ability to speak or eat.
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What is mouth and throat cancer?
Nine out of ten mouth and throat cancers are squamous cell carcinoma, meaning they start in the flat, scale-like cells that form the lining of the mouth and throat.
The disease is most often caused by tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, or human papillomavirus infection (HPV). A diagnosis used to be nearly a death sentence.
A better treatment for mouth and throat cancer
Hope for a more humane solution comes from Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where surgeons have been using and refining a surgical technique for mouth and throat tumors known as transoral laser microsurgery (TLM).
This technique uses a carbon dioxide laser, an endoscope, and a precision microscope so the surgeon can see into the small spaces of the mouth.
Though it sounds a little like science fiction, the carbon dioxide laser is highly efficient, effective, and far more accurate than a scalpel. This method of precision tumor removal generates just enough heat to destroy the tumor, cauterize the incision site, and seal blood vessels — all of which promote faster healing — but it limits damage to the delicate oral cavity and structures that are crucial to speaking and eating.
This minimally invasive approach reduces the patient’s recovery time by half, improves quality of life after surgery, and often eliminates the need for radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Though surgery is still not my favorite method of treatment, transoral laser microsurgery appears to be a game-changer for treating mouth and throat cancers. With any type of cancer, it often makes sense to reduce tumor load with surgery before embarking on alternative treatments. And many patients, frightened by their cancer diagnosis, insist on it anyway.
Just don’t imagine that the surgeon “got it all,” as the expression goes. If you don’t want the cancer to come back, make the lifestyle changes you need to make – food, exercise, detoxification, appropriate supplements, sound sleep, reduced stress. In most cases, we get cancer because we’ve fallen down on several of these.
Viable treatment option for oropharyngeal carcinoma
TLM has been shown to be useful as a primary treatment in numerous kinds of mouth and throat cancers and has been successful at varying stages.
A study performed at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia used TLM on 39 patients with oropharyngeal carcinoma — cancer of the tonsils, base of the tongue or soft palate.
The patients ranged from stage I to stage IV cancer. Some had already tried radiation and chemotherapy without success. Others were trying TLM as a primary treatment.
The study followed these patients for 36 months and found that only three patients developed complications after surgery. Plus, the surgery proved to be highly effective and very safe.
The researchers recommended transoral laser microsurgery as a treatment for both primary and recurring oropharyngeal carcinoma.1
A study published in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery also reviewed the efficacy of TLM on tumors at the base of the tongue, and TLM’s ability to preserve organs and tissue compared to open surgery.
They used TLM on 48 previously untreated patients and found that 92% were able to return to normal eating habits afterwards, and 88% maintained understandable speech.
25 patients lived at least five years after treatment, and none of them needed tracheostoma (permanent opening in the trachea) or a feeding tube, significantly increasing their quality of life in remission.2
Preserving important organs using TLM
In addition to oropharyngeal carcinoma, TLM has been used successfully to treat both beginning and advanced laryngeal cancer (cancer of the vocal cords).
As you can imagine, traditional surgery causes significant damage to vocal cords — often irreparably damaging a patient’s ability to speak. But studies show TLM can preserve these organs, more or less allowing patients to return to their normal lives.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed 117 patients for two years and found that 92% of patients had an intact larynx after 2 years.3
And, a study published in the February 2016 issue of Head and Neck followed 150 patients and found that nearly three out of every four were living without a laryngectomy (removal of the larynx) five years after treatment using TLM.
The researchers concluded that “TLM constitutes a true alternative for organ preservation.” 4
TLM is more cost-effective than other treatments
Technological advances are making TLM a cost-effective option for people with head and neck cancers. Because of reduced recovery times and a lower rate of complications, a patient’s hospital bills are often lower.
TLM is essentially an outpatient surgery that lasts from one to two hours, possibly more in specific cases. Compare that to radiation or chemotherapy treatment, which is often five days a week for six or seven weeks. That alone is a significant improvement.
In Canada, a retrospective study of TLM surgeries versus radiation treatment at Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax found that radiation treatment costs approximately four times as much as TLM.5
The study concluded that TLM should be the primary method of treatment as it’s the most economical without sacrificing quality of care or outcomes.
The good news is that a diagnosis of mouth and throat cancers used to mean undergoing dreadful and potentially disabling treatments.
Now, patients can very nearly return to their normal life … heal and enter remission faster … and pay lower medical bills while they’re at it.
Much more pleasant than any kind of surgery is a famous cancer-fighting plant you can grow in a sunny window and make into a tasty juice. We talked about it in the last issue – repeated just below for people who missed it.
Grow This Green Cancer Treatment Yourself
In a Window Box
Wheatgrass juice, in all its grass-green glory, was one of the health fads that kicked off the juicing/smoothie revolution decades ago. But despite tasting a lot like its namesake (grass), the health habit has stuck around.
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“The mother of living foods”
If you haven’t heard of her, Ann Wigmore was one of the main voices to popularize wheatgrass back in the 1960s. (Although studies on wheatgrass date back to the 1930s.)
Wigmore followed a strict health regime that consisted largely of raw foods, fruits, and nuts, and excluded all meat and dairy, along with cooked products. Wheatgrass was part of her plan, so Wigmore’s diet soon became known as “The Wheatgrass Diet.” Nowadays, you might recognize her diet as being very similar to a plant-based diet.
From a nutritional standpoint, wheatgrass is packed with the nine essential amino acids your body can’t make on its own, along with 12 other amino acids and 13 vitamins. It also contains iron, calcium, and magnesium. The combination of all these nutrients is said to give your immune system a massive boost.
If you’re a fan of the vivid green color of wheatgrass, you should know that’s another bonus. That color comes from the plant pigment chlorophyll, which works as a detoxifier within your body. Called “the blood of plant life,” it aids human blood with a cleansing process that improves the supply of oxygen to the circulatory system.
Rumor has it this stuff is better than great…
We know wheatgrass is widely used for a number of things — for body detoxification, to help with dental and hair problems, and as an antiseptic. Some people use it as a pain killer, a throat reliever, an acne and scar remover, and even as a deodorant (I don’t know what they do about the green stains).
But it’s the ability of wheatgrass to protect or possibly cure long-persisting disorders that is slowly catching the attention of the scientific community.
Notably, the many amino acids in wheatgrass are useful in rebuilding cells and muscle tissue within your body. If you’re facing cancer, and particularly if you’re undergoing a traditional chemotherapy or radiation routine, this could help with the rebuilding of healthy cells following the destruction of unhealthy cancer cells.
Sadly, and despite all its nutritional power, there haven’t been nearly enough scholarly studies on wheatgrass. Most of the claims come from anecdotal evidence and case histories. The Internet is full of them—stories like that of 74-year-old Danny McDonald who was diagnosed with stage four chronic stomach cancer and was told he had only a few weeks to live.
Mr. McDonald rejected the treatment regime laid out by his doctors and instead started drinking an ounce of wheatgrass a day, gradually upping his dose to seven ounces a day. He claimed his stomach pains disappeared after a week, and then the stomach cancer itself disappeared.
According to the respected Hippocrates Health Institute, “Two ounces of wheatgrass juice has the nutritional equivalent of five pounds of the best raw organic vegetables.” So it makes sense that those who are already nauseous from cancer treatment would prefer to drink a shot of wheatgrass instead of downing five pounds of vegetables a day, particularly if they’re going to reap the same benefit.
Barely-studied superfood impresses on a broad scale
I wish I could show you more evidence for this popular remedy. In the few studies published, largely through universities, wheatgrass as a cancer treatment and preventive aid looks promising.
For example, one pilot study from Nutrition and Cancer with 60 participants showed wheatgrass reduced the hematological [blood] toxicity related to chemotherapy in breast cancer patients. Side effects were minimal.
Another study looked at how the enzymes in wheatgrass may play a pivotal role in thwarting or warding off cancer. Because wheatgrass juice is such an excellent source of chlorophyll, laetrile, and the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), it augments the oxygen supply to all body cells. That includes cancer cells, which tend to be vulnerable to high oxygen concentrations. The SOD within wheatgrass catalyzes the generation of hydrogen peroxide from superoxide radicals, which is fatal to cancer cells.
Wheatgrass contains the anticancer agent dormin, also known as the plant hormone abscisic acid (ABA). That particular hormone is 40 times more potent when consumed within four hours after cutting the wheatgrass plant. This is key, because ABA can neutralize the effect of the hormone chorionic gonadotropin and a compound similar to this hormone has been found to be produced by cancer cells.
In addition, since cancer cells tend to succumb in a highly alkaline environment, it helps that the pH of wheatgrass juice is around 7.4 and contributes to alkalinity.
And finally, in a study published just last year in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, the methanol extract of wheatgrass showed anti-leukemic potential that is likely due to the presence of high levels of flavonoids and polyphenolics.
Green blood: Best when fresh
To make wheatgrass, you start with the new grass of the wheat plant. You can’t eat it raw like spinach though, so it has to be juiced or blended or altered in some way. The benefits appear to be highest when it’s pressed into a juice and consumed fresh.
Still, wheatgrass isn’t hard to come by. You can get the juice in many health food stores, juice bars, fitness clubs, cafés, and even bars. Wheatgrass is also available as a frozen juice, in tablet form, and as a powder. It has a long shelf life, which makes these forms ideal for physical stores.
Purists, however, grow their own wheatgrass – maybe in a sunny window – and juice it in their own juicer. It grows fast, and it’s consumed when the plants are young. So I guess it doesn’t take much space to grow all you need.
If you’re using it for a health regimen, I’d recommend opting for fresh, recently-squeezed juice. And like so many whole foods with amazing anti-cancer potential, this one certainly looks like it could only help.
References Article #1:
1 Transoral laser microsurgery for the treatment of oropharyngeal cancer: The Dalhousie University experience.
References Article #2:
“Ann Wigmore Wheatgrass Treatment For Cancer.” by Webster Kehr, Independent Cancer Research Foundation, Inc. | Last updated on February 08, 2016.
“Effect of wheat grass juice in supportive care of terminally ill cancer patients— A tertiary cancer centre experience from India.” By S. Dey, et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2006 ASCO Annual Meeting Proceedings (Post-Meeting Edition). Vol 24, No 18S (June 20 Supplement), 2006: 8634.
“Components of an Anticancer Diet: Dietary Recommendations, Restrictions, and Supplements of the Bill Henderson Protocol.” By Cynthia Mannion, et al. Nutrients. 2011 Jan; 3(1): 1–26. Published online 2010 Dec 30.