It is disturbing that cancer patients who improve using nutritional regimens are derided as virtual crackpots and their treatments dismissed in a highly patronizing manner. However, cancer patients who die, having undergone toxic treatments which sap their energy and harm their immune systems are heralded as brave souls.

The accumulation of excess free radicals which cause oxidative damage to cells is one of the contributing factors in ageing and has been implicated in many diseases, including cancer. Cancer treatment by radiation and anticancer drugs reduces inherent antioxidants and induces oxidative stress, which increases with disease progression.

While clinical studies on the effect of anti-oxidants in modulating cancer treatment are limited in number and size, experimental studies show that antioxidant vitamins and some herbs selectively induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells but not in normal cells and prevent angiogenesis and metastatic spread, suggesting a potential role for antioxidants as adjuvants in cancer therapy. There is no evidence that antioxidant supplements interfere with the therapeutic effects of chemotherapy agents.

The human immune system is a collection of mechanisms that protects against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. The body's immune system attacks and eliminates not only bacteria and other foreign substances but also cancer cells. Much of the body's protection against cancer is carried out directly by cells of the immune system rather than by antibodies circulating in the bloodstream. For example, the presence of tumor antigens on cancer cells can activate certain white blood cells (lymphocytes, and to a lesser degree, monocytes), which carry out an immunological surveillance, looking for cancer cells and destroying them.

The immune system and antioxidant activity becomes weaker and less efficient with age. This reduced effectiveness helps to explain the rising incidence of cancer and life threatening infections in older people. It is thought that antioxidant supplements could help maintain bodily processes and prevent a significant number of degenerative diseases, especially those involving the immune, cardiovascular and liver functions.

Cancer is much more common in immunosuppressed people. Is the cancer a result of immunosuppression or does the cancer occur as a result of the same thing which caused the immunosuppression? The immune system is obviously very important, it is a natural approach to cancer therapy. Indeed, antioxidant supplementation has shown a remarkable ability to forestall age related changes to the immune system and even reverse many aspects of immune function damage.

Sources:
Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment (2007, April 27).
ScienceDaily (Antioxidants May Aid Chemotherapy Patients).
Journal Cancer Treatment Reviews (May, 2007)