Chemotherapy: 10 science-backed tips for patients.
Chemotherapy is highly toxic to the human body. The side-effects can cause terrible suffering, result in organ damage and can kill you. Therefore, if you decide to go this route, it is vitally important that you do everything possible to mitigate its effects. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to reduce side effects and increase survival time.
Extracts from scientific studies appear like this. Some are paraphrased for clarity or brevity. Only a sample of studies are listed for each topic.
Request a Chemosensitivity Test
Order a Chemosensitivity Test to find out which drugs (or natural substances) are effective at killing your cancer cells and which agents are not effective. The most promising drug/substance regimen can be selected for you, increasing the odds for treatment success. At the same time, ineffective drugs are avoided. Also known as Personal Cytometric Profiling.
Conclusions: Despite various limitations of individual studies, the aggregate and fairly consistent evidence of these data suggests cytometric profiling to be accurate, to improve overall tumor response, and to increase 1-year patient survival. (read study)
See Tests page for more details
Prevent Cancer Cachexia
By some estimates, nearly one-third of cancer deaths can be attributed to a wasting syndrome called cachexia, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Cancer Cachexia affects 50–80 % of advanced cancer patients, with currently no effective treatments. Cachexia is defined by increased fatigue and loss of muscle function. This results in diminished physical activity, reduced tolerance to anticancer therapies and decreased survival. Available evidence suggests that chemotherapy (i.e. the use of cytotoxic and anti-proliferative drugs) may play a key role in the development and sustainment of cachexia. (read study)
The following can help:
A hormone made by the pineal gland (tiny organ near the center of the brain). Melatonin helps control the body’s sleep cycle, and is an antioxidant. It is also made in the laboratory and sold as a supplement – National Cancer Institute.
In accordance with our previous investigations, this clinical study further suggests that MLT [Melatonin] administration can improve the clinical condition of untreatable metastatic solid tumour patients, and therefore has potential value in the palliative care of human neoplasms. In addition, this study shows that MLT may counteract weight loss that occurs with progressing cancer…(read study)
A randomized study was carried out in patients with metastatic solid tumors comparing a combination of low-dose Interlukin-2 (immune booster) plus melatonin with palliative care. In the treated group, the percentage of patients with improved performance status, as well as overall survival, was significantly higher than those receiving only palliative care. (read study)
See Melatonin page
A type of chemical in marijuana that causes drug-like effects all through the body, including the central nervous system and the immune system. Cannabinoids may help treat the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment – National Cancer Institute.
For the cancer patient, cannabis has a number of potential benefits, especially in the management of symptoms. Cannabis is useful in combatting anorexia, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, pain, insomnia, and depression. Cannabis might be less potent than other available antiemetics, but for some patients, it is the only agent that works, and it is the only antiemetic that also increases appetite. (read study)
See Cannabinoids page
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat the body cannot make on its own. They are an essential fat, which means they are needed to survive. We get the omega-3 fatty acids we need from the foods we eat – Cleveland Clinic.
patients with the lowest n-3 fatty acids in plasma PL experience muscle loss whereas those with the highest n-3 fatty acids gain muscle over the course of chemotherapy…Overall, the beneficial effects observed with n-3 supplementation are likely due at least in part, to the n-3 supplement improving muscle health, the response of the tumor to chemotherapy and reducing toxicities. (read study)
In cancers where high inflammatory stress is usual, protein rich supplements containing n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and high levels of antioxidant vitamins can reverse severe weight loss. (read study)
Note: The 3 major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamins C and vitamin E.
A subtropical shrub or tree. Juice from the fruit may contain substances that decrease or slow the rise of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. It is being studied for its ability to delay or prevent recurrent prostate cancer – National Cancer Institute.
COX-2 expression is increased in cachexia…Pomengranate juice resulted in the highest level of COX-2 suppression (79%) compared to treatment with single constituents. The effects are attributed to synergistic activity of the various pomegranate components necessary for anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity. (read study)
Endurance exercise training consists of performing low- to medium-intensity exercise for long periods of time. Endurance training (such as running, cycling, or swimming) involves the use of several large groups of muscles and tends to be aerobic – Open Access Text.
Muscle metabolic health and mass are dramatically affected by physical activity and exercise. Physical activity and exercise are already thought to be beneficial during cancer treatment and survival and hold clear potential as a non-pharmacological treatment for muscle wasting conditions. (read study)
The American Cancer Society recommends patients to maintain as much physical activity as possible, given their particular impediments, during cancer treatment and recovery. The recommendation for healthy individuals is of at least 150 min of moderate-intensity or 75 min of vigorous-intensity activity each week, or an equivalent combination, preferably distributed throughout the week. (read study)
A substance that has been studied as a treatment for cancer and as a treatment for cachexia (body wasting) associated with advanced cancer – National Cancer Institute.
There is good evidence that hydrazine sulfate inhibits gluconeogenesis [converting fats or proteins into sugar]. Therefore, it may play a role in reducing the severity of cachexia and in improving the quality of life of cancer patients.
Dr. Joseph Gold, an American research oncologist, found that in clinical studies, the use of hydrazine sulfate resulted in improved appetite and reduced weight loss, and he proposed that it be used as an adjuvant therapy to prevent cachexia. (read study)
Low carbohydrate diet.
A low-carb diet limits carbohydrates — such as those found in grains, starchy vegetables and fruit — and emphasizes foods high in protein and fat. Many types of low-carb diets exist. Each diet has varying restrictions on the types and amounts of carbohydrates you can eat – Mayo Clinic.
a switch to a low carbohydrate/ketogenic diet has been shown to prevent cachexia in patients undergoing chemotherapy, suggesting this dietary approach may be a suitable alternative for cancer patients at risk of cachexia, sarcopenia, and weight loss. (read study)
A drug that increases the motility (movements and contractions) of the stomach and upper intestine. It is used to treat certain stomach problems and nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy – National Cancer Institute.
In advanced cancer patients with delayed gastric emptying or gastroparesis, metoclopramide was shown to be effective in stimulating appetite and relieving other symptoms associated with anorexia. It was not reported whether patients on metoclopramide had improvements in body weight or survival. (read study)
A drug used in tablet form to treat advanced breast and endometrial cancer. It is also being studied in the treatment of anorexia and cachexia in patients with cancer – National Cancer Institute.
Megestrol acetate can significantly decrease the degree of body weight loss, and can prevent the deterioration of appetite in patients with head and neck cancers receiving radiotherapy. (read study)
Improve the efficacy of chemotherapy
The following can help:
Berberine is an alkaloid present in a number of clinically important medicinal plants, extracts of which have been used in Chinese medicine for many years. It has multiple therapeutic effects for metabolic disorders, microbial infection, neoplasms, and inflammation – Science Direct
…our findings demonstrate that berberine sensitizes drug-resistant breast cancer to chemotherapy and directly induces apoptosis [programmed cell death]. Berberine appears to be a promising chemosensitizer and chemotherapeutic drug for breast cancer treatment. (read study)
A yellow pigment of the spice turmeric that is being studied in cancer prevention – National Cancer Institute.
Curcumin is one of compounds that present anticancer activity in many types of cancer and has been extensively studied for its anticancer mechanisms …Combinational treatment of curcumin enhanced therapeutic efficacy of traditional chemotherapeutic drugs, cisplatin, doxorubicin, 5-fluorouracil, and gemcitabine…Therefore, combination use of curcumin and available anticancer drugs has great potential to enhance chemotherapy efficacy and improve clinical treatment of cancer. (read study)
See Curcumin page
Whole body Hyperthermia.
Systemic hyperthermia is deliberate heating of the whole body to achieve an elevated core temperature for therapeutic purposes. This practice has centuries of historical precedence and is founded on solid physical and biological principles – University of Texas Medical School.
Whole-body hyperthermia is used to treat metastatic cancer that has spread throughout the body. This can be accomplished by several techniques that raise the body temperature to 107-108°F, including the use of thermal chambers (similar to large incubators) or hot water blankets (National Cancer Institute).
Whole Body Hyperthermia combined with chemotherapy is efficient and safe for advanced cancer, and is worth generalizing extensively. (read study).
See also Hyperthermia page
A type of plant with thick pointed leaves, or the thick liquid found in the leaves that is used to treat damaged skin – Cambridge Dictionary.
The percentage of both objective tumor regressions and disease control was significantly higher in patients concomitantly treated with Aloe than with chemotherapy alone, as well as the percent of 3-year survival patients.
CONCLUSION: This study seems to suggest that Aloe may be successfully associated with chemotherapy to increase its efficacy in terms of both tumor regression rate and survival time. (read study)
Hedyotis Diffusa (spreading hedyotis)
An herb used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat certain medical problems. It has been used to boost the immune system and may have anticancer effects – National Cancer Institute.
Both pre-clinical and clinical studies have established the efficacy and safety of spreading hedyotis in treating various cancers including stomach cancer, liver cancer, lung cancer, esophagus cancer, and leukemia. It can directly inhibit the growth of various cancer cells and induce apoptosis both in vitro and in vivo…It also has immune modulation functions against cancer…Clinical outcomes have demonstrated that it can enhance the efficacies and reduce the adverse effects (i.e. white blood cell decrease, nausea/vomit) by the conventional chemotherapies. It is also effective in relieving cancerous pain and fever. (read study)
Get treatment at the right time of day
Cancer chronotherapy consists in administering treatment at an optimal time. Because the body is governed by precise biological rhythms, the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs can be doubled and their toxicity reduced five-fold depending on the exact timing of their administration – www.sciencedaily.com
Rhythms in cell function and proliferation circadian rhythms account for predictable circadian changes in cancer-treatment tolerability and efficacy. The extrapolation, from mice to human beings, of the least toxic times to administer chemotherapy has been validated in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer in phase III clinical trials…Thus, the median survival of patients with colorectal cancer metastases who receive chronotherapy has consistently ranged from 16 to 21months, the longest time reported for this disease in multicentre trials. (read study)
Restore your immune system
Immune System: A complex network of cells, tissues, organs, and the substances they make that helps the body fight infections and other diseases. The immune system includes white blood cells and organs and tissues of the lymph system, such as the thymus, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes, lymph vessels, and bone marrow – National Cancer Institute.
Chemo drugs can damage healthy immune cells… the killing of immune cells can also enhance tumor growth (read study),
allows things like yeast to get out of control (read study).
Chemotherapy can cause severe Vitamin D deficiency (read study)
There are a number of ways to boost your immune system, including:
Proper Sleep. Have uninterrupted sleep in a darkened room (no computer, Wi-Fi, ‘phone etc).
Sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions. Prolonged sleep curtailment produces pro-inflammatory cytokines, best described as chronic low-grade inflammation, and also produce immunodeficiency, which both have detrimental effects on health. (read study)
Laughter. People who laugh a lot have stronger immune systems.
Findings from this study support that the act of laughing is correlated to changes in stress and immune function following exposure to a humor stimulus. Laughing can apparently reduce stress and improve NK [natural killer] cell activity, at least temporarily. As low NK cell activity is linked to decreased disease resistance and increased morbidity in persons with cancer and HIV disease, the authors conclude that laughter may be a useful cognitive-behavioral intervention for use in these patients. (read study)
Sex. People who have good sex lives have stronger immune systems.
Conclusion: These findings demonstrate that components of the innate immune system are activated by sexual arousal and orgasm…this study demonstrates for the first time that sexual activity and orgasm induce transient increases in the circulation of lymphocyte subpopulations, in particular NK [natural killer] cell numbers, in man. (read study)
Meditation. People who meditate have stronger immune systems.
Kiecolt-Glaser discovered that the elderly in a retirement home who practised a relaxation technique, showed a significant increase in their immune defences against viruses and tumors (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1985); and in another study, he pointed out how medical students who used such techniques during examination preparation, a source of stress, showed higher levels of T-helper cell antibodies which fight infectious diseases (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1986). (read study)
Daily exercise. Exercise greatly improves the immune system. It improves survival rates of some cancer patients by 50 per cent.
In brief, NK [natural killer] cell number significantly increases following a single bout of exercise… Exercise is a pleiotropic strategy that may be a promising candidate therapy for the treatment of cancer. …The evidence reviewed in this paper suggests that exercise has immunomodulatory effects that could alter multiple critical phases of immune system–tumor cross-talk in both tumor initiation and progression (read study)
Physical activity is able to stimulate greater natural killer cell activity, enhance immunity, reduce inflammation, …(read study)
In this systematic review, we found that Natural Killer cytotoxic activity increased after exercise in cancer patients…(read study)
Good diet. Eat natural, local produce and avoid all processed foods.
According to current understanding, the key factors against immune-mediated inflammatory responses, such as those occurring in cancer, as well as their potential clinical application, are on one side low cholesterol levels and on the other high levels of antioxidants contained in fruits and vegetables and mono unsaturated fatty acid (MUFA) present in fish, nuts and olive oil.
…nutritional supplementation with arginine, omega-3 fatty acids and nucleotides results in a marked improvement of immune functions in cancer patients undergoing surgery and a reduction in infectious complications, hospital stay and co-morbidities
Moreover, nutrition may affect the gut microbiome, which in turn has drastically different effects on immune function according to its composition (read study)
Probiotics. Sources include sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, miso, natto and kombucha.
Probiotic bacteria have recently become the focus of research because of their anti-cancer properties. The underlying mechanisms for their anti-cancer effects are versatile including suppression of the growth of microbiota implicated in the production of mutagens and carcinogens, alteration in carcinogen metabolism, and protection of DNA from oxide damage as well as regulation of immune system. In addition, they have been shown to change expression of different genes participating in cell death and apoptosis, invasion and metastasis, cancer stem cell maintenance as well as cell cycle control. (read study)
Probiotic (Fermented) foods
Top Probiotic Foods List:
Yogurt and kefir (dairy- or plant-based), Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kvass (a fermented beet drink), Natto, Miso, Kombucha, Raw cheese from goat’s or sheep’s milk – Betternutrition.com
Consumption of probiotic organisms in the form of fermented milk or yogurt has been shown to increase cellular immunity in elderly subjects and children. It is well established that the intestinal microflora affects the development and functioning of the immune system, so it is reasonable to conclude that intestinal microflora could be modulated by using probiotic organisms, which could provide means of improving the immune status of healthy and unhealthy individuals. (read study)
Health functionality of kimchi, based upon our research and that of other, includes anticancer, … immune promotion, and skin health promotion. (read study)
Natural vitamin supplements etc
See a comprehensive list on Immune boosters page
A number of drugs are used to treat nausea, but other, less toxic therapies have also been proven to help patients. These include:
Considerable evidence demonstrates that manipulation of the endocannabinoid system regulates nausea and vomiting in humans and other animals. The anti-emetic effect of cannabinoids has been shown across a wide variety of animals that are capable of vomiting in response to a toxic challenge.
Although chemotherapy-induced vomiting is well controlled in most patients by conventionally available drugs, nausea (acute, delayed and anticipatory) continues to be a challenge. Nausea is often reported as more distressing than vomiting, because it is a continuous sensation. Indeed, this distressing symptom of chemotherapy treatment (even when vomiting is pharmacologically controlled) can become so severe that as many as 20% of patients discontinue the treatment. Both preclinical and human clinical research suggests that cannabinoid compounds may have promise in treating nausea in chemotherapy patients. (read study)
According to the findings of this study, it should be declared that taking ginger capsules (1 g/day) might relieve Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting safely. (read study)
This is the best treatment (along with massage) according to this review
Concerning herbal therapies, it can also be reported that researchers in the field of chemotherapy have given prime significance to Zingiber officinale. This plant induces acceptable effects on the reduction of Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
In the end, based on the results of this study, it can be generally concluded that Zingiber officinale (in form of ginger capsule) is the best option among antinausea medications to Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. During the treatment of Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, massage therapy is also recommended at certain hours of the day and night due to its desirable effects on reducing patients’ nausea and vomiting as well as their mental health. (read study)
Evidence has shown that hypnosis can effectively treat anticipatory Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and early research indicates that alternative treatments such as acupuncture and massage may also be beneficial in prevention of Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. As new cancer therapies become available it is crucial to manage symptoms effectively for benefit of patients.
With delayed nausea and vomiting, the acupressure group had a statistically significant reduction in the amount of vomiting and the intensity of nausea over time when compared with the placebo and usual-care groups. (read study)
Massage and Inhalation Aromatherapy
Conclusion: Nausea severity was significantly lower in the massage and inhalation aromatherapy groups than in the control group. Nausea and retching incidence was reduced in the aromatherapy groups compared with that in the control group. (read study)
Avoid dangerous infections
White blood cells (WBCs) fight infections from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens (organisms that cause infection). A low white blood cell count is one of the more serious side effects of chemotherapy – MedlinePlus
Despite advances in oncology care, infections from both community and healthcare settings remain a major cause of hospitalization and death among patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy. Neutropenia (low white blood cell count) is a common and potentially dangerous side effect in patients receiving chemotherapy treatments and may lead to higher risk of infection. Preventing infection during treatment can result in significant decreases in morbidity and mortality for patients with cancer. (read study)
SEPSIS is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. For a person with cancer, any infection that is anywhere in your body can lead to sepsis – Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Neutropenic sepsis is a life-threatening side-effect of chemotherapy—patients are still dying from this complication of treatment, and these deaths are largely preventable…… Early intervention with intravenous antibiotics is critical to improve outcomes… (read study)
What are the signs and symptoms of an infection?
Watch for signs of an infection, such as:
•Fever, chills or sweats
•Redness, soreness, or swelling in any area, including surgical wounds and ports
•Diarrhea and/or vomiting
•Sore throat, cough or nasal congestion
•New sore in the mouth
•Shortness of breath
•Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation
•New onset of pain
•Changes in skin, urination, or mental status
What are the signs and symptoms of sepsis?
Sepsis is a bad outcome from an infection. There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. It is, rather, a combination of symptoms.
How can I reduce my risk for infection?
Hand washing is the number one way to prevent infections. This should include you, all members of your household, your doctors, nurses and anyone that comes around you. Don’t be afraid to ask people to wash their hands.
Washing your hands with soap and water is the most effective, but it’s OK to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
You should wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after cooking food
- Before you eat
- After going to the bathroom
- After changing diapers or helping a child to use the bathroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching your pet or cleaning up after your pet
- After touching trash
- Before and after treating a cut or wound or caring for your catheter, port, or other access device.
You should also do the following:
- Protect your skin from scrapes and cuts
- Maintain good oral and body hygiene practices
- Practice proper wound care
- Use disinfectants to keep your household surfaces free of germs
- Avoid situations where you might come into close contact with people who may be sick
- Use disinfectants to keep your household surfaces free of germs
- Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or feces)
Get help with Insomnia
Sleep problems such as being unable to fall asleep and/or stay asleep, also called insomnia, are common among people being treated for cancer. Studies show that as many as half of all patients have sleep-related problems. These problems may be caused by the side effects of treatment, medicine, long hospital stays, or stress – National Cancer Institute.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is one of the most effective therapeutic modalities for sleep disturbance in patients with breast cancer and has been associated with the improvement not only in patient-reported sleep measures but also in patient psychological distress levels and QOL. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia is sustained over a longer time, when compared with pharmacologic therapies, because it addresses the cause of the sleep disturbance and requires active patient participation in acquiring and maintaining skills to prevent and treat it. (read study)
Insomnia is highly prevalent and persistent during the cancer trajectory, especially in patients with breast and gynecological cancer. Surgery and hospitalization, adjuvant treatments, nocturnal hot flashes, fatigue, and pain may trigger the onset of sleep disturbances. Several clinical trials have supported the efficacy of CBT to improve sleep of cancer patients. CBT is now recognized as the treatment of choice for insomnia comorbid with cancer. (read study)
Reduce your stress and anxiety
People who have cancer may find the physical, emotional, and social effects of the disease to be stressful. Those who attempt to manage their stress with risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking alcohol or who become more sedentary may have a poorer quality of life after cancer treatment. In contrast, people who are able to use effective coping strategies to deal with stress, such as relaxation and stress management techniques, have been shown to have lower levels of depression, anxiety, and symptoms related to the cancer and its treatment – National Cancer Institute.
Conclusions. The findings showed that patients with prostate and breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy treatment can benefit from Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) and Guided Imagery (GI)bsessions to reduce their anxiety and depression…PMR in combination with GI is more effective than standard treatment alone in patients diagnosed with breast and prostate cancer receiving chemotherapy. (read study)
See Manage Anxiety and Stress page
Ask about Insulin Potentiation Targeted Therapy Low Dose (IPTLD)
With IPT the insulin works on the cell membranes and allows chemotherapy to target cancer cells. Thus, it is the chemotherapy that kills the cancer cells, however, because of the insulin, the amount of chemotherapy needed is greatly reduced, meaning the side-effects of the chemotherapy are greatly reduced – Cancer Tutor
Overall, both the short and long-term clinical results using insulin in this adjunctive or potentiating role in cancer chemotherapy have been very good, – and better when compared to conventional practice without insulin. (read study)
Our results showed that patients tolerated IPTLD without difficulties, without serious side effects. Our laboratory tests demonstrated that the dose related toxicity of chemotherapeutics could be largely mitigated when applied in conjunction with insulin, at a fractionated dose in accordance with a dose dense regimen. Upon follow-up, 85 of 106 patients (80%) with advanced metastatic disease reported a subjectively significant improvement in their quality of life. (read sudy)
See Insulin Potentiation Therapy page
For decades, cancer survivors have described experiencing problems with memory, attention, and processing information months or even years after treatment. Because so many of these survivors had chemotherapy, this phenomenon has been called “chemobrain” or “chemofog,” – National Cancer Institute.
From many sources of data, we now know patients experience impairments not just after chemo, but after surgery, radiation, hormonal therapy, and other treatments – Patricia Ganz, M.D.
Our findings suggest that low-intensity exercise may aid in preventing or attenuating cognitive dysfunction in patients with various forms of cancer undergoing chemotherapy. (read study)
A treatment being studied to improve brain function in certain brain disorders and in patients treated with chemotherapy for breast cancer. Sensors are placed on a person’s head, which allows brain activity to be shown as patterns on a computer screen. A beep or a tone may be used as a reward to a person for changing certain brain activities. Neurofeedback may help cancer patients deal with the stress and mental side effects of chemotherapy. Also called EEG biofeedback – National Cancer Institute.
In this study, breast cancer survivors demonstrated significant baseline impairments in self-reported cognitive function, fatigue, sleep quality, and psychological well-being as compared with a normal population. After 10 weeks (20 sessions) of neurofeedback, their performance in these areas had improved to levels indistinguishable from population norms. (read study)
BrainHQ is an online brain-training program made by Posit Science. In late 2018, the National Cancer Institute recognized BrainHQ as an evidence-based cancer intervention.
The NCI database describes it as an intervention designed to help breast cancer survivors troubled by chemo brain – National Cancer Institute.
Auditory Memory/Attention improvement was significantly greater in the experimental group [using BrainHQ games]than in the control group. Multiple secondary measures of memory and attention showed significantly greater improvements in the experimental group, as did the participant-reported outcome measure. Conclusion: The experimental program improved generalized measures of memory and attention more than an active control program. (read study)