Integrative Approach to Treating Cancer
Schachter reports success utilizing nutrition, lifestyle changes,
supplements and herbs, detoxification and other complementary modalities
The longstanding approach to cancer treatment has been to deal with the
tumor as a foreign invader, removing as much as possible surgically, radiating
it to reduce the size, and managing it with chemotherapy. Although some cancers
may respond to such treatment, others will not and, often, this conventional
approach can do more harm than good by undermining the very resources the body
needs to attack the cancer.
So believes Dr. Michael B. Schachter, whose integrative medical practice
in Suffern, the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine, has been involved
with alternative and complementary medicine since 1974. Claiming to have a high
success rate — Schachter says that following a lumpectomy for breast cancer,
and even with the involvement of several lymph nodes, his patients rarely
experience a recurrence of cancer within five to eight years if they continue to
adhere to his program — Schachter nonetheless never uses the term
"cure." He approaches cancer as if it were a chronic disease like
diabetes. And his measure of success is not a tumor's size, but quality of life
Schachter's approach presupposes the body has the ability to heal itself
under the proper circumstances and it places less emphasis on destroying the
cancer at all costs. Instead, the focus is on building up the body with
non-toxic treatments so it can deal with the cancer.
"There has not been much emphasis [in conventional medicine] on
dealing with the possible causes that have brought about the cancer and, by
possibly dealing with that, one might be able to affect the course of the
illness," says Schachter, 62. "The general orientation of the
integrative cancer specialist is somewhat different. The body has the ability to
heal itself given the right circumstances and, when cancer develops, it is
because of some kind of breakdown in the body's systems."
Most cancer research has concentrated on changes in the size of the tumor
as the determining factor in whether or not a particular treatment has been
successful, according to Schachter. If the tumor shrinks by 50 percent, the
treatment is considered to be effective, he says.
"Unfortunately, a change in the size of the cancerous tumor has
little relationship either to the survival of the patient or his/her quality of
life," notes the physician. "This is true because the tumor consists
not only of cancerous cells, but the body's defensive cells as well, and
shrinking the tumor kills both types of cells, reducing the body's ability to
fight the cancer."
Oncologists rarely communicate to their patients that conventional
treatments will not always improve their chances for survival, emphasizes
Schachter. For example, women with breast cancer are not generally told that
radiation following a lumpectomy and axillary lymph node removal will not extend
their lives, and men with prostate cancer are not told that there is "no
statistically significant evidence" to indicate that a radical
prostatectomy or any kind of
radiation therapy will improve their chances for survival, he says. "On the
contrary," he adds, "in both examples, the patients are usually
presented with these options with the implication that these treatments are
absolutely necessary and that there are no other choices."
Cancer develops as a result of mutations involving three specific classes
of genes, according to Schachter. The first, proto-oncogenes, normally stimulate
routine cell division, but, after mutations, accelerate wild cell division. The
second class, tumor suppressor genes, will under routine conditions help to
prevent cells from dividing abnormally. After mutating, however, they fail
"to put on the brakes," he says. And lastly, DNA repair genes, which
repair damage to other genes, are unable to do their job following mutations.
These mutations are inherited from parents or result from environmental
influences, such as chemical exposure in food, water and air; radiation;
insufficient exposure to protective factors like vitamin D from sunlight,
minerals, and anti-oxidants; and other exposures. Environmental mutations
accumulate over time so that cancer is more common as we age, according to
Schachter. "The more mutations present in the cancer cells, the more
bizarre, angry and aggressive the cancer," he says.
In addition to being toxic and suppressing the immune system, radiation
and chemotherapy are highly mutagenic and carcinogenic, according to Schachter,
who points out that such treatments may contribute to the development of
mutations in cancerous cells rather than killing the cells as they are intended
to do. This helps to explain a well-known phenomenon after conventional therapy
using these treatments: when a
cancer recurs, it is almost always more resistant to further treatment and more
difficult to treat, he says. "At the very least, when using these
treatments, we should be paying attention to ways of building the body
simultaneously to reduce their adverse affects," he suggests.
Schachter says the various complementary and alternative treatments he
administers at his center can be used alone or to counteract the negative
effects of radiation and chemotherapy. He works with patients, who have chosen
to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy as well as those who are seeking
"Numerous in vitro and animal studies provide evidence for the
cancer killing effects of nutrients and other natural substances," says
Schachter. "These substances are frequently damaging to cancer cells, but
protective of normal cells. Furthermore, these same nutrients are synergistic
with conventional treatments, improving therapeutic results and reducing the
toxic side effects of the conventional treatments."
Schachter's program begins with an "avoid list" that includes:
sugar, alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, white flour products, hydrogenated fats,
chemicals in foods, fluoride, aluminum and Teflon cookware, non-prescription
drugs, mercury-containing amalgam fillings, electric blankets, lead-containing
lipstick, synthetic hair dyes, proximity to high voltage power lines, waterbeds,
metal rimmed eyeglasses (that weaken an individual's energy field), tight and
restrictive clothing (especially bras that should not be worn more than
necessary and should be as loose as possible to permit lymph drainage),
microwave ovens, and anti-perspirant deodorants (which contain aluminum).
Dietary recommendations will include a wide variety of fresh, whole
organic foods with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and high
quality animal protein foods. If tolerated, a significant amount of the diet
will be raw foods. Most patients are asked to take a large number of oral
supplements, including vitamins, amygdalin (sometimes called Laetrile), herbal
combinations, and certain enzymes and essential fatty acids.
Many patients also receive an injectable treatment program involving high
doses of Vitamin C and amygdalin, a variety of minerals (including selenium,
calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, molybdenum and chromium) and well
as other nutrients and substances to enhance the body's defense against cancer,
improve the patient's sense of well being or directly affect the cancer cells in
a therapeutic way, according to Schachter. Intravenous hydrogen peroxide therapy
and ultraviolet blood irradiation are also incorporated.
Various detoxification procedures account for another aspect of the
program. At the same time, the physician may add hormone balancing, homeopathy,
stress management and imagery techniques, massage and other forms of bodywork,
acupuncture, spinal manipulation, and magnetic therapy. Fresh air, sunlight and
exercise are important ingredients of the complementary and alternative approach
and conventional medicines may be recommended as needed, says the physician.
If Schachter's patients are experiencing so much success by utilizing
complementary and alternative treatments, why aren't more conventional
physicians incorporating such modalities into their programs? "Can you
imagine if it was really known by people just how bad these things are?" he
poses, referring to the dangers associated with pesticides, herbicides, food
additives and other pollutants with which the average child and adult comes into
daily contact at home, in school and at the workplace. "What effects would
it have on the chemical industry, the fertilizer industry, the processed food
companies and this is not even talking about the medical-industrial complex?
We're talking about billions and billions of dollars and changing society's
whole way of looking at things. It's unbelievable what the implications are of
some of this stuff."
"As many people as die from cancer, there are probably more people
making a living from it if you take everything into consideration," says
Schachter. Radiation treatments are a "cash cow" for the hospitals, he
believes. "I encourage most patients to at least look at the
statistics," he says. Schachter believes radiation is warranted in very few
instances, although he says it can be useful in certain circumstances.
The criticism of complementary and alternative medicine is often that
there are no studies to prove the effectiveness of these treatments. Schachter
concedes, "There are very few. They are mostly clinical or anecdotal
reports because, for the most part, who is going to fund these studies? It now
costs almost $900 million to get one drug approved by the FDA. Who has the money
to be able to do this? And all of the alternative approaches use
multi-variables. We clean up the diet. We try to get people to exercise. We give
them nutritional supplements. It's not a model to be used like a drug, where you
put a group on a placebo and another group gets it. It's not as measurable.
There would have to be very gross kinds of measurements and what you are really
looking at is survival. There are very few doctors who are doing this,
especially with cancer patients, because many doctors have been persecuted for
questioning the conventional realm."
Schachter does not accept medical insurance and he says there is no way
he would be practicing integrative medicine if he did. His program is well
outside the HMO model of care. Cancer patients spend at least an hour and a half
with a physician's assistant at his office to develop a program tailored to the
individual, and then another hour with him on the same day or later in the week
to refine that program. Still another hour with a nutritionist or lifestyle
counselor at the center is also required in the beginning. Follow-up visits
generally require an hour with Schachter because the patients have so many
questions and the programs are so complicated, he says.
Board certified in psychiatry and chelation therapy, Schachter graduated
from Columbia College and received a medical degree in 1965 from Columbia
College of Physicians and Surgeons. He did a year's internship at the Hospital
for Joint Diseases and a three-year residency in psychiatry at Kings County
Hospital. A general psychiatrist first, then head of emergency services at a
hospital in Rockland County, and, finally, the head of a clinic by the early
1970's, Schachter was involved with what was then called orthomolecular
psychiatry, which had to do with creating an optimal molecular environmental in
which the brain could overcome psychiatric problems.
Schachter noticed that a mega-vitamin therapy that
was being used at the time also cleared up allergies, gastrointestinal problems
and other medical ailments the patients were experiencing. "It turned out
there was a very close relationship between psychiatric problems and lifestyle,
nutrition and supplements, and so on," he says.
When his father developed a blockage of the arteries
in the legs, he underwent chelation therapy. From not being able to walk more
than a couple of blocks, his father was soon able to take long walks, says the
physician. After Schachter's mother developed brain cancer, he spent months
traveling in both this country and abroad seeking treatments that would help
her. In the process, he became familiar with alternative cancer therapies. In
1974, he started the Schachter Center for Complementary Medicine.
Schachter is the co-author of The Food Connection (Bobbs Merrill), and Food, Mind and Mood (Warner Books); and the author of The
Natural Way to a Healthy Prostate (Keats Publishing). He was a major
contributor to Burton Goldberg's An
Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer (Future Medicine
For further information, contact Schachter at (845)
368-4700, email his office at email@example.com, or visit his website, www.schachtercenter.com.
Barrist Stern is associate editor at the Woodstock Times in Kingston, New
York, and editor of special sections for Ulster Publishing, its independently
owned parent company. This article
appeared in the August 2003 edition of Ulster Publishing's annual health
resources guide for the Hudson Valley and is
reprinted through the courtesy of Ulster Publishing.