Sunday, March 13, 2011

Surgery-Induced Cancer Metastasis - Part 3

I am now in Cameron Highlands for a short holiday.

The Immune System
Research has shown that natural killer( NK) cells can spontaneously recognize and kill a variety of cancer cells and NK cells are a type of white blood cell tasked with seeking out and destroying cancer cells.

Researchers have reported in a study, low levels of NK cell activity were associated with an increased risk of death from breast cancer. In fact, reduced NK cell activity was a better predictor of survival than the actual stage of the cancer. In another alarming study, individuals with reduced NK cell activity before surgery for colon cancer had a 350% increased risk of metastasis during the following 31 months!

The likelihood of surgery-induced metastasis requires the immune system to be highly active and vigilant in seeking out and destroying renegade cancer cells during the perioperative period (the time immediately before and after surgery). In a study, NK cell activity in women having surgery for breast cancer was reduced by over 50% on the first day after surgery might permit neoplasms [cancer] to enter the next stage of development and eventually form sizable metastases.

The surgical procedure itself reduces NK activity. This NK cell-impairing effect that occurs immediately after surgery increased the risk of metastasis. The perioperative period presents a window of opportunity to actively strengthen immune function by enhancing NK through numerous nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and medical interventions known to enhance NK cell activity.

One prominent natural supplement that can increase NK cell activity is PSK, (protein-bound polysaccharide K) a specially prepared extract from the mushroom Coriolus versicolor. PSK's ability to enhance NK cell activity helps to explain why it has been shown to dramatically improve survival in cancer patients. For example, 225 patients with lung cancer received radiation therapy with or without PSK (3 grams per day). For those with more advanced Stage 3 cancers, more than three times as many individuals taking PSK were alive after five years (26%), compared to those not taking PSK (8%). PSK more than doubled five-year survival in those individuals with less advanced Stage 1 or 2 disease (39% vs.17%). A group of colon cancer patients were randomized to receive chemotherapy alone or chemotherapy plus PSK, which was taken for two years. The group receiving PSK had an exceptional 10-year survival of 82% while those with only chemotherapy had a 10-year survival of only 51%.

Other nutraceuticals that have been documented to increase NK cell activity are garlic, glutamine, IP6 (inositol hexaphosphate), AHCC (active hexose correlated compound), and lactoferrin. One experiment in mice with breast cancer found that glutamine supplementation resulted in a 40% decrease in tumor growth paired with a 2.5-fold increase in NK cell ctivity. Pharmaceuticals used to increase NK cell activity include interferon-alpha and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. At least five days prior to surgery, it would appear logical to institute a NK cell-enhancing program involving nutrients like PSK, lactoferrin, glutamine, and others.

Heightening Immune Surveillance with Cancer Vaccines
An enlightened medical approach to cancer treatment involves the use of cancer vaccines. The concept is the same as using vaccines for infectious diseases, except that tumor vaccines target cancer cells instead of a virus. A distinguishing feature of tumor vaccines is that they are produced from a person's own cancer cells removed during surgery. This highly individualized cancer vaccine greatly amplifies the ability of the immune system to identify and target any residual cancer cells present in the body.

In a landmark study reported in 2003, 567 individuals with colon cancer were randomized to receive surgery alone, or surgery combined with vaccines derived from their own cancer cells. The median survival for the cancer vaccine group was over 7 years, compared to the median survival of 4.5 years for the group receiving surgery alone. The five-year survival was 66.5% in the cancer vaccine group, which dwarfed the 45.6% five-year survival for the group receiving surgery alone.

Cancer Surgery, Angiogenesis, and Metastasis
A clever strategy employed by cancer to thrive in the body is angiogenesis, a process by which new blood vessels are formed from pre-existing blood vessels. Formation of new blood vessels is a normal and necessary process for childhood growth and development, as well as for wound healing but unfortunately, cancers hijack this otherwise normal process in order to increase blood supply to the tumor and is an absolute requirement for successful metastasis since tumors cannot grow beyond the size of a pinhead (i.e., 1-2mm) without expanding their blood supply.

A surprising revelation is that the primary tumor produces anti-angiogenic factors which restrict the growth of metastases. However, the surgical removal of the primary cancer also results in the removal of these anti-angiogenic factors, and the growth of metastasis is no longer inhibited.

Loss of angiogenic inhibition by the primary tumor during surgery also causes another angiogenic predicament, levels of factors that increase angiogenesis also known as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are significantly elevated.

A group of scientists summarized this research quite well when they asserted that after surgery, the angiogenic balance of pro-antiangiogenic factors is shifted in favor of angiogenesis to facilitate wound healing. The levels of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) are persistently elevated. This may not only benefit tumor recurrence and the formation of metastatic disease, but also result in activation of dormant micrometastases.

Various nutrients have been shown to inhibit VEGF. These include soy isoflavones(genistein), silibinin (a component of milk thistle), chrysin, epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea, and curcumin.

In one experiment, EGCG the active constituent of green tea was administered to mice with stomach cancer. The results demonstrated that EGCG reduced the tumor mass by 60%, while also reducing the concentration of blood vessels feeding the tumor by 38%. Remarkably, EGCG decreased the expression of VEGF in cancer cells by an astounding 80%! In the evaluation of the research pertaining to curcumin anti-angiogenic effects, researchers at Emory University School of Medicine noted that Curcumin is a direct inhibitor of angiogenesis and also downregulates various proangiogenic proteins like vascular endothelial growth factor. The scientists remarked, Cell adhesion molecules are upregulated in active angiogenesis and curcumin can block this effect, adding further dimensions to curcumin antiangiogenic effect.

Five days prior to surgery, the patient may consider supplementing with standardized green tea extract, curcumin, soy genistein extract and other nutrients that suppress VEGF and thus may help protect against angiogenesis.

To be continued.

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