Nutrition: integrated medicine and cancer

Tuesday 08 May 2018

Last week I went on another course at the Penny Brohn Cancer care centre in Bristol titled, ‘Broadening the vision of supportive cancer care and survivorship-An Integrated Medicine Approach’. I thought that you might like to hear about it.

It was an all day event with various speakers it was managed by a lady called Dr. Catherine Zollman who is clinical lead at the Penny Brohn centre and she also lectures at Bristol University.

The main theme of the day was how to include more complementary approaches to cancer, particularly making them available via the NHS.  Therapies like homeopathy, acupuncture, creative writing, mindful meditation and of course nutrition and how to eat well.

It seemed that the biggest stumbling block to these was the lack of good research and evidence about the efficacy of the complementary treatments. In order for NICE to approve any treatment it has to be supported by good research and prove to be of value to the patient. This is of course very frustrating because good research costs money and unless this is made available complementary approaches to cancer will always be limited. It is also quite difficult to carry out studies on the value of the therapies because they are very difficult to quantify and measure, unlike work carried in in the lab.

Most of the research that has been done has relied on filling out questionnaires which of course are very open to interpretation and dependent on the memory of the participant. Or many are observational studies and not scientific so again they fall short of NICE requirements.

One of the speakers Dr. Paul Cornes is an oncologist from Bristol but has global interests in cancer treatment. He spends most of his time traveling the world putting in place cancer initiatives to improve the availability of treatment and to make sure that the practices are worthwhile in as much as they are effective and beneficial and most importantly value for money. He was passionate that self -management was the way forward with all the information and support available to people at the point of diagnosis. This way he felt that patients would share their treatment in an informative and knowledgeable way. This was deemed to be the ‘ideal’ and to make this the norm would take a great deal of effort to establish manage. He also supported the WHO report of 2014 stating that more priority and money should be given to prevention and avoidance of the disease. He felt that countries would go bankrupt trying to sustain the present systems of care and that changes to the type of care was needed i.e. self-management. This was because the number of people getting cancer was to increase and reckoned that it would be 1 in every 2 people by 2020 and by 2030 4 million people will be living with cancer. He did however say that when patients filled out questionnaire about their main concerns surrounding cancer car parking was their main problem!!! The frustration and anxiety that it caused led to many people not turning up for treatment.


I was very interested in a talk given by Professor Ann Williams who is a research cell biologist at Bristol University and she came up with some fascinating facts. At the age of 20 our bodies are made up of 10,000,000,000,000 (10 thousand billion) cells. Our cells are being shed and renewed constantly at a rate of 10 million a second. This is called cell turnover which is normally well self- regulated. Her work was mainly concerned with trying to replicate the natural cell self destruction in cancer cells. Natural cell death is known as apoptosis. Interestingly apoptosis translates into leaves falling of a tree, which I suppose is like our bodies shedding their cells.

We also heard from a homeopath and acupuncturist whose work with cancer patients is helping them with side effects of treatment. Both felt that their particular therapies were very effective particularly with hot flushes and digestive problems.

What about nutrition?

The nutritional therapist that talked was Liz Butler, who I have met before at other seminars. We definitely sing from the same hymn sheet so to speak in as much that she focused very much on eating a natural whole food diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits, healthy fats, good quality protein from animals and plants and complex carbohydrates. To try and avoid sugar and processed foods and damaged fats found in fried and processed foods. These are topics that I have covered in my blogs. She felt that all of the books and information that is available as very confusing and misleading and that people should adopt a pattern of eating as healthily as they can, but not to get too bogged down with specific diet regimes that may promise results but do not carry sufficient research or evidence about their value. This is why it is important to try and seek professional guidance on food and eating.

How Maggie’s helps
Reflecting on the day I did feel that this is where Maggie’s centres fills a real gap by providing various programmes and drop in sessions such as yoga, mindful meditation, creative writing, Tai chi and of course nutrition to compliment the conventional treatment. Support of course that Maggie Jenks recognised herself as being valuable, empowering and vital.

Personally I do feel that research into the benefits of complementary therapies is finally catching up as a vital part of the healing programme and with pioneers like those I met on the course integration will be part of the future.

Blog originally written by Caroline May 2014

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