Is nature the best weapon in the fight against cancer?

We keep hearing that plants and foods have anti-cancer properties so why don’t they feature more in cancer treatment?

The good news is a global task force has been established to look more closely at the natural component of plants and foods that could lead us to a cure for cancer.

Grapes, soybeans, turmeric and many other foods and plants contain pieces of the puzzle.

The task force of 180 scientists from around the world includes University of Auckland Professor of Cancer Nutrition Dr Lynn Ferguson, and they have published research that suggests that combinations of non-toxic doses of plant and food chemicals may not only provide a cure for “untreatable” cancers but address the problem of cancer relapse.

In light of this evidence, the task force is calling for an immediate increase in support for research on mixtures of chemicals that can reach a broad-spectrum of therapeutic targets.

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“While current therapies have achieved modest successes in some cancers, significant problems remain with most of our approaches to treatment,” says Dr Ferguson. “In particular, many newer targeted therapies are extremely expensive, highly toxic and not effective for rare types of cancer and advanced cancers.”

“Even when they appear to work, a significant percentage of patients will experience a relapse after only a few months,” she says. “Typically advanced cancers are untreatable and relapses occur when small sub-populations of mutated cells become resistant to therapy.

“Doctors who try to address this problem with combinations of therapies find that therapeutic toxicity typically limits their ability to stop many cancers.”

The task force met recently to discuss the potential of carefully combining low-toxicity chemicals, specifically to defeat relapsed cancer.

“Many of the chemicals that were selected, such as resveratrol in grapes, genistein in soy, curcumin and others, can be extracted from plants and foods,” says Dr Keith Block, the Medical and Scientific Director of the Block Centre for Integrative Cancer Treatment.

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“Although most have been studied for individual anti-cancer effects, there has been almost no research done on substantial combinations of these chemicals,” he says. “This was the first time that teams of researchers with such a wide range of expertise have ever been assembled to address the complex problem of relapse.”

“The task force teams have emerged believing that carefully designed combinations of non-toxic chemicals can be developed that will maximise our chances of arresting most cancers”, says Dr Block who is the lead author of this group.

There are still many unanswered questions so animal trials are now needed to advance this approach before human trials are possible.

“But this is an area that merits considerable attention,” says Dr Dean Felsher, a project contributor from the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. “Our approaches to therapy are improving, but we need a breakthrough that can help us address the problem of relapse, and this is a new, paradigm-changing approach that might just give us a chance.”

The taskforce also wanted to produce an approach to therapy that would have the potential to be very low cost, because many of the latest cancer therapies are deemed unaffordable in low-to-middle income countries.

Accordingly, the task force has laid the groundwork for a solution that should be both inexpensive and effective in making this novel approach available to people who are suffering from cancer throughout the world.

Do you believe that nature holds the secret to defeating cancer?