Is it Time to Rethink Our Approach to Cancer Treatment?

Richard Nixon declared war on cancer as he signed the cancer act in 1971 stating, “for those who have cancer and who are looking for success in this field, they at least can have the assurance that everything that can be done by government, everything that can be done by voluntary agencies in this great, powerful, rich country, now will be done and that will give some hope, and we hope those hopes will not be disappointed.”

hope-393239_1280 carlyleGood intentions here. Stop the suffering caused by cancer. Who could argue with that? Well, more than four decades later, it’s time to ask a few tough questions:

Is waging a war on cancer actually waging war on our own bodies? Conventional treatment includes three options:  cutting, poisoning, and burning cancer away via surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. One of the issues with these treatments, of course, is that there is a delicate balance: give the patient enough treatment to kill the cancer cells without killing the patient. While this balancing act may read like a Stephen King novel, it’s a real-life nightmare for way too many people.

Is this what success in the war on cancer looks like? The National Cancer Institute’s website includes expectations for 2015: “In 2015, an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 589,430 people will die from the disease.” Conduct your own analysis here; however, it’s difficult to argue with the conclusion that these expectations indicate less than stellar success after 40+ years of research, experimentation, and treatment.

Einstein proposed that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. Isn’t it time to do something different? We seem to think that in order to “beat” cancer the patient needs to go to battle and endure unimaginable suffering. How many times have we heard how close we are to a cure? And that all we need is more funding for research? More clinical trials? This brings up even more questions – questions that begin with What if…

What if stronger drugs aren’t the answer?

What if lifestyle and nutrition play key roles in prevention and healing of cancer?

What if we focus on prevention?

What if we stop referring to screening for cancer as prevention?

Who is benefiting from all of these fundraisers to eradicate cancer? How many billions of dollars have been raised for cancer research? And still, the National Cancer Institute expected more than 1.5 million new cancer diagnoses and more than 500,000 deaths due to cancer in 2015.

Is there a simpler solution? These questions have been asked before – for decades, actually. Dr. John McDougall has been working with cancer patients for more than 40 years. One of his favorite treatments: diet. While he does prescribe drugs for patients and recommends surgery as well, he puts his patients in control of their health by teaching them about the importance of a plant-based diet. Listen to the interview Chris Wark of conducted with McDougall – none of the propositions about the relationship between diet and cancer are new; these connections were acknowledged decades ago.

T. Colin Campbell has conducted research showing the impact diet has on chronic diseases. Campbell published the results of his research in The China Study; these results were the opposite of what Campbell thought he’d find.

So what does this all mean?

Keep asking questions if you find yourself or a loved one facing a cancer diagnosis. I’ve written an eBook, 12 Bold Questions to Ask on Your Journey to Health, to serve as a starting point for a conversation for cancer patients and their healthcare teams.

Remember that knowledge is power. Conduct your own research, and know where your healthcare tea is getting its information from.

Listen to your inner voice.

Lots of questions remain. How do you approach the conversation surrounding cancer and other chronic illnesses?

About Deb

Deb Nelson, principal of deb nelson consulting, is a creative storyteller. She designs and implements communication plans that leverage strategic partnerships and provide innovative solutions for her clients. You can find her on twitter at @nelliedeb.


  1. So glad you raised these issues. Every year I contribute funds to friends who walk for cancer & I ask them if they have questioned the promoters why we dont have cures and preventions. There are many who say the pharmaceutical companies are hiding the cure or prevention cause they won’t make money on the drugs.
    I do know people who have treated their cancer with holistic measures and are now in remission. We need more info on that method to go viral.

    • Lots of work in process to shine the light on holistic treatment, Roz. I’ve participated in triathlons for the cure, donated to support friends and family members who are raising money to support cancer research. Now, if I support a cause you can bet I’m asking where the $$ are going – continuing research to support big pharma, supporting patients and their families, supporting holistic treatment. Let’s try to move the needle on this!!
      Deb Nelson recently posted..Is it Time to Rethink Our Approach to Cancer Treatment?My Profile

  2. I’m glad you’ve about this, Deb. I lost my maternal grandmother to cancer 5 years ago and there are lots of questions that I would love to have an answer to which include why was it discovered at Terminal 4 stage and why did she have to suffer when she was showing signs of upset stomach and whole host of symptoms that should have been looked into? She was already 85 and by the time the doctors diagnosed it as stomach cancer, nothing could be done because of her age and heart condition.

    I have read elsewhere that different people respond to treatments differently and yes, before subjecting a patient to surgery or chemotherapy, attention should be paid to factors of heredity, diet and lifestyle so that one has the peace of mind that preventive measures can be taken. Incidentally, my grandmother was a pure vegetarian and there is no history of the big C in our family but yes, we are more alert to stomach upsets and acidity though not in the paranoid sense.
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  3. Sue Minnick says:


    Your post caught my attention. Although there are many types of cancer, I too think nutrition is a key factor.

    My story starts 25 years go when I was ready to deliver my first son. My mother who lived across the country had planned to come for the birth. I got the call before he was born that she was not coming, not feeling well. My father did not want to upset me when I found out afterwards that she had esophogeal cancer. She had surgery, seemed to be getting better, then had round two brain cancer which she passed away when my son was two. What happened next was more than we could fathom. Her younger brother, father and mother passed in the next five years of lung, colon and breast cancer. All seemingly to be unrelated.
    Two years ago her other brother passed of pancreatic cancer.

    Last year I was diagnosed with Celiacs disease. Celiacs is an autoimmune disease that compromises the upper intestine. This is critical for several reasons. When your small intestine is compromised, your body does not absorb nutrients properly. So even if you are eating well, lots of vegetables, fruit, etc, your body is starved of proper nutrients. Another major factor is that the allergy creates antibodies which get into your bloodstream which can cause havoc in many parts of the body compromising your immune system. What I have learned about this disease is that if affects everyone very differently. Many doctors will not test for Celiacs if you do not have GI issues. I did not have GI issues, but I have Celiacs. It caused me issues like osteopenia, inflammation of neck, shoulders, dry eyes and more. My doc only agreed to test me when I was pre-diabetic and was doing everything like exercise, was underweight and eating what my nutritionist was telling me.
    Also of interest is that Celiacs is a genetic condition. If I have it, my mother could have too. My mother had GI issues that are more common with Celiacs. Esophogeal cancer can be caused by acid reflex which was one of her symptoms. Acid reflex is a symptom of Celiacs in some people.

    I have a large family, four brothers and one sister. So far I have a sister and brother with GI symptoms. They are both going through diagnostics and testing. Both have been ill for several years as I have. None of our doctors tested us for Celiacs. Mine was the first after two years of back and forth discussions. After Christmas, I called all of my siblings and asked them to get tested.

    Information I have read connect the follow types of cancer to Celiacs: esophogeal, pancreatic, thyroid, colon to name a few.

    The major issues I see blocking anything to be done are:
    1. Many doctors will not test for Celiacs because it is not standard protocol or they don’t understand the disease. Or why, because I can’t figure it out?
    2. Celiacs is very misunderstood and not popular.
    3. Education on what damage it is causing, including the risks for cancer.

    I wish everyone the best on your journey to health.

    • Thanks so much for reading this post, Sue, and for sharing your experience with me. There is still so much to learn around our health, and you’re the perfect example of the importance of being an advocate for yourself. Congrats to you for asking questions about your health until you got an answer – and for passing that info to your family. Best to you and your family.

  4. We were sitting with my mother at lunch today and asking her if she would like us to ask guests to her upcoming 100th birthday party to donate to a charity instead of buying gifts. The conversation came around to “disease” charities and I stated I will not support any of them. She then asked “Why can’t they find a cure for cancer if there has been so much money donated for all these years?”. My answer was quick: “Because cancer is a huge business.” The disease industry is a big business. The “cure” is with us, as you so eloquently shared, Deb. It isn’t a one size fits all journey for each person, but an individualized and personalized one, that resonates with the person. I know I would never do conventional treatments for any disease and yet so many people chose it and somehow it is right for them. As you know having read my book and also many of my posts, I ask as many questions as possible to find the answers that make sense for me. I follow my intuition and always encourage others to do the same. Sadly, many people are not in touch with their own inner guidance so rely on the world outside themselves to choose for them. There is always another way. Drugs create as many issues as they supposedly help. We all have both the responsibility and the ability to take control of our own health and well being. Often it happens only when there is a health crisis to deal with. I could go on and on, however, I am with you all the way! Each of us can make wise and empowering choices for ourselves.
    Beverley Golden recently posted..On Being a Multifacetist©My Profile

    • First off: how wonderful that your mother is celebrating her 100th birthday thinking of how to help others. What a gift to you and your family to have 100 years with her!

      And good for you for standing up (as always) for your principles. Cancer certainly is big business just as you stated, Beverley. It seems we’re at a point where people are following your lead and asking more and more questions. Let’s hope that trend continues.

  5. Hi Deb,
    Great post! I would agree it is time for us to rethink our approach to cancer treatments and we must make those choices that are right for us 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
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    • Yes, Joan, it seems to me it’s time to take the blinders off and look at making sure our treatments help people thrive – many options if we dare to follow our intuition and instincts.

  6. Hi Deb, your post brought back some memories for me. I’ve lost so many friends and family to cancer and the hardest one being my Father. The doctors wanted to do all these types of treatments on him all to get a couple of more months. My Father opted out of that and wanted to live his last month chemical free. There are so many different ways to look at the war on cancer, personal, spiritual, political..all I now is the main thread of conversation I ever have with someone is that we just wish it was gone.
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    • Thanks for sharing your Father’s experience, Gisele. He sounds like a brave man who knew how he wanted to live – without chemicals and debilitating side effects. I’m so sorry you and your family lost him to cancer. I hope and work toward ensuring that people realize they can ask quesetions – knowledge is power. We get that knowledge from asking questions.

  7. Great post. Brings back memories of my Mom’s battles with cancer and I’ve seen how the doctors in another family member’s cancer battle are being more aggressive and preventive with radiation. I’ve also had a friend in a Breast Cancer study about NOT treating the cancer – so far, so good – she’s still with us.
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    • Thanks for sharing Tamara – it seems we’ve all been affected by cancer. Glad you were there to support your Mom. Also glad to see people are being offered options – glad your friend is doing well with her approach to her breast cancer.

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