Updated 14 August 2014

Colon cancer - from Natural Standard

Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the lower part of the digestive system. Rectal cancer occurs on the last eight to ten inches of the colon.


Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the lower part of the digestive system. Rectal cancer occurs on the last eight to ten inches of the colon. They are often referred to together as colorectal cancers, and are the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

The colon and rectum are part of the digestive tract. They comprise the large intestine, or large bowel, which is located in the abdomen between the small intestine and the anus.

The incidence is slightly higher in men than women, and is highest in African American men. The incidence of colorectal cancer is highest in developed countries such as the United States and Japan, and lowest in developing countries such as Africa and Asia.

Estimated number of new cases and deaths from colon and rectal cancer in the United States in 2007 are as follows: new cases: 112,340 (colon); 41,420 (rectal); deaths: 52,180 (colon and rectal combined).

Ashkenazi Jewish individuals have a higher incidence of a specific genetic mutation (called I1307K) that increases the risk for colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society states that most (over 95%) colon cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancer in the glands or secretory cells) that develop when a change occurs in cells that line the wall of the colon or rectum. The disease often begins as an intestinal polyp, also called an adenoma, which is an abnormal growth of tissue. Polyps can gradually become precancerous and then cancerous.


Age: The chances of having colorectal cancer increases after the age of 50. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 9 out of 10 people with colorectal cancer are older than 50.

Previous colorectal cancer: Although the colorectal cancer has been completely removed, there is a risk that new cancers could grow in other areas of the colon and rectum.

History of polyps: An increased risk for colorectal cancer may depend on a larger size or greater number of polyps.

Inflammatory intestinal conditions: Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease increase the risk of colon cancer. In these conditions, the colon is inflamed over a long period of time and there may be ulcers in the lining.

Genetics: If an individual has close relatives (such as a parent or sibling) that have had colon cancer, their risk is increased. This is especially true if the family member had cancer before the age of 60. Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer should talk to their doctors about how often screening tests should be performed.

An estimated 25% of colon cancer cases may be linked to genetics. Some mutations are inherited, while others occur randomly during a person's life. Mutations in three main types of genes have been linked to colon cancer. These include tumor-suppressor genes, proto-oncogenes, and stability genes.

Tumor-suppressor genes help prevent cancer by regulating cell growth. They prevent cells from dividing too rapidly or uncontrollably. When tumor-suppressor genes are mutated, they do not function properly. As a result, cells may grow uncontrollably and possibly lead to cancerous tumors. Mutations in several different tumor-suppressor genes, including the APC, DCC, DPC4 (also known as SMAD4), LKB1, MSH2, and MLH1 genes, have been linked to colon cancer or colorectal cancer. Some tumor-suppressor genes, such as the TP53 (p53) gene, are associated with many different types of cancers, including colon cancer.

Proto-oncogenes also help regulate cell division. When a proto-oncogene is mutated, it is called an oncogene. Mutations in several proto-oncogenes, including C-MYC and MYB, have been linked to colon cancer. Researchers have recently discovered that the CDK8 oncogene may also increase a person's susceptibility to colon cancer.

Stability genes repair DNA damage or abnormalities that occur during cellular division. When these genes are mutated, it may cause genetic mutations that can lead to cancer. Examples of stability genes associated with colon cancer include hMLH1 hMSH2, hMSH6, PMS2, MYH (MutYH), and BLM.

Ethnic background: Jewish individuals of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi) have a higher rate of colon cancer.

Diet: A diet high in fat, especially from animal sources, may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Poor food choices may result in a deficiency of nutrients, such as calcium, magnesium, pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and folic acid, and these nutrients may be helpful in reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Lack of exercise: People who are inactive have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

Obesity: Obesity increases an individual's risk for colorectal cancer.

Smoking: Recent studies have shown that smokers are 30-40% more likely than nonsmokers to die of colorectal cancer.

Alcohol: Heavy and chronic use of alcohol has been linked to colorectal cancer.

Diabetes: Individuals with diabetes have as a high as a 40% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Other cancers and their treatment: A recent report on testicular cancer survivors found that men with this condition had a higher rate of colorectal cancer. Men who receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer have also been reported to have a higher risk of rectal cancer.


The risk factors mentioned above leave the individual susceptible to developing colon or rectal cancers.

Polyps: In the colon and rectum, the exaggerated growth of cells may cause precancerous polyps (adenomas, or adenomatous polyps), which form in the lining of the intestine. Over a period of time some of these polyps may become cancerous. In the later stages of the disease, these cancerous polyps may penetrate the colon walls and metastasize (spread) to nearby lymph nodes and other organs.


There may be no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the cancer's size and location in the large intestine. In some cases, symptoms may result from a condition other than cancer, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn's disease, and sometimes diverticulosis or diverticulitis (conditions in which pouches form in the colon wall, weakening it and causing inflammation). Like colorectal cancer, these conditions are treatable.

Signs and symptoms to be aware of include a change in bowel habits including: diarrhea, constipation, a change in the consistency of the stool for more than a couple of weeks, narrow stools, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas or pain, abdominal pain with a bowel movement, a feeling that the bowel is not emptying completely, and/or an unexplained weight loss.

Blood in the stool may be a sign of cancer, but it can also indicate other conditions. Bright red blood on bathroom tissue or in the toilet may come from hemorrhoids or minor tears (fissures) in the anus, or from certain foods such as beets, spinach, red cabbage, or food dyes. Iron supplements and some anti-diarrheal medications may make stools appear black.


Detection of early colon cancer is difficult due to a lack of symptoms. Most colon cancers develop from adenomatous polyps, which is why screening is extremely important for detecting polyps early. Symptoms usually appear with a more advanced disease.

Digital rectal exam: Digital rectal exams are performed in a doctor's office. A gloved finger is used to check the first few inches of the rectum for large polyps and cancers. Although safe and painless, the exam is limited to the lower rectum and cannot detect problems with the upper rectum and colon. In addition, it's difficult for a doctor to feel small polyps.

Fecal occult (hidden) blood test: This test checks a sample of the stool for blood. It can be performed in the doctor's office, or a kit may be given to the patient that explains how to take the sample at home. In colorectal cancer most polyps don't bleed, which can result in a negative stool test result, even though an individual may have cancer. Blood may also be the result of hemorrhoids or minor tears, so it can only aide in the diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy: The doctor uses a flexible, slender and lighted tube to examine the rectum and sigmoid colon (approximately the last two feet of the colon). The test is fast but can sometimes be uncomfortable. If a polyp or colon cancer is found during this exam, the doctor will recommend a colonoscopy to look at the entire colon and remove any polyps for further examination under a microscope.

Barium enema: This diagnostic test allows the doctor to evaluate the entire large intestine with an X-ray. Barium, a contrast dye, is placed into the bowel using an enema, and air may also be added. The barium fills and coats the lining of the bowel, creating a clear outline of the rectum, colon, and occasionally a small portion of the small intestine. A flexible sigmoidoscopy is often done in addition to the barium enema to aid in detecting small polyps that a barium enema X-ray may miss. This commonly occurs in the lower bowel and rectum.

Colonoscopy: This procedure is the most sensitive test for colon cancer, rectal cancer, and polyps. Colonoscopies are similar to flexible sigmoidoscopies, but the instrument used is a colonoscope, a long, flexible, and slender tube attached to a video camera and monitor. This allows the doctor to view the entire colon and rectum. If any polyps are found during the exam, the doctor may remove them immediately or take tissue samples (biopsies) for analysis. This is done through the colonoscope and is virtually painless, but the patient may receive a mild sedative for comfort. Preparation for the procedure involves drinking a large amount of fluid containing a laxative to clean out the colon.

Genetic testing: If there is a family history of colorectal cancer, the individual may be a candidate for genetic testing.

Blood tests: Blood tests may include a test for anemia (if bleeding occurs). A newer test checks a stool sample for DNA of abnormal cells. It is called the carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) assay. It is useful because CEA is released into the bloodstream from both cancer cells and normal cells, and has been found in colon cancer.

Biopsy: For a biopsy, the doctor removes a small piece of tissue that is sent to the lab and examined under the microscope to see if any cancer is present.

Ultrasound: Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce a picture of the inside of the body. Two special types of ultrasound may be useful for people with colon or rectal cancer. In one, the instrument that gives off sound waves is placed into the rectum. In the other test, the instrument is used during surgery and is placed against the surface of the liver to see if the cancer has spread there.

CT scan (computed tomography): A CT scan uses x-rays to take many pictures of the body and then combines the pictures by computer which provides a detailed picture. A CT scan can often show whether the cancer has spread to the liver, lungs, or other organs. CT scans can also be used to help guide a biopsy needle into a tumor. A newer way to use a CT scan is to perform a "virtual colonoscopy." Once the colon is cleaned and filled with air, a computer puts together a picture of the inside of the colon. The same preparation for a colonoscopy is used and there may be some discomfort from the bowel being filled with air. If anything abnormal is detected, a follow-up colonoscopy will be needed.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): Similar to CT scans, MRI's display a cross-section of the body using radio waves and strong magnets instead of radiation. A contrast dye may be injected, although it is used less often with MRI's. An MRI scan is most helpful when looking at the brain and spinal cord. They may take longer than CT scans, and the patient is placed inside a confining tube.

Chest x-ray: This test may be done to see whether colorectal cancer has spread to the lungs.

PET scan (positron emission tomography): PET scans for colon cancer use a type of radioactive sugar, because cancer cells absorb high amounts of sugar. A special camera is used to visualize where the cancerous cells may reside.

Angiography: A dye is injected and a series of x-ray pictures are taken during this procedure. Surgeons may use this method to find blood vessels near cancers that have spread to the liver.

American Cancer Society Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines state that beginning at age 50, both men and women with an average risk should follow one of the five screening options including: yearly stool blood tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, yearly stool blood test plus flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, a double contrast barium enema every five years, or a colonoscopy every ten years.

Despite its high incidence, colorectal cancer is one of the most detectable and, if found early enough, most treatable forms of cancer. Over 90% of those diagnosed when the cancer remains localized survive more than five years. However, currently only 37% of colorectal cancers are detected while still localized.

Staging colon cancer: Once diagnosed with colorectal cancer, a doctor will determine the "stage" of the cancer. Staging helps determine how well the individual will do and what treatments are most appropriate.

Stage 0: Stage 0 cancer is the earliest stage. The cancer hasn't grown beyond the inner layer (mucosa) of the colon or rectum. This stage is also known as carcinoma in situ.

Stage I: In stage I, the cancer has grown through the mucosa, but hasn't spread beyond the colon wall or rectum.

Stage II: In stage II, the cancer has grown through the wall of the colon or rectum, but hasn't spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage III: In stage III, the cancer has invaded nearby lymph nodes, but isn't affecting other parts of the body.

Stage IV: In stage IV, the cancer has spread to distant sites such as the liver, lung, membrane lining of the abdominal cavity, or to the ovaries.

Recurrent: Recurrent colon cancer may happen following treatment occurring in the colon, rectum, or other parts of the body.


Metastasis (spreading) to other organs, such as the liver, pancreas, lungs, and lymph nodes may occur causing an increase chance of death.

Colonoscopy procedures may cause complications including perforation (a hole), bleeding, infection, abdominal distension (bloating), postpolypectomy coagulation syndrome (damage to the colon wall from a snare loop or hot forceps used in diagnostic procedures), splenic rupture, and small bowel obstruction.


Surgery: Surgery is the treatment of choice for colorectal cancer. Treatment depends on the stage of the disease and the overall health of the patient. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used as adjuvant treatment (in addition to surgery).

Radical bowel resection, also called partial colectomy and hemicolectomy, is used to treat 80 to 90% of colorectal cancer patients. This procedure may be performed through a large incision in the abdomen (open surgery) or through several small incisions (laparoscopic surgery). If the cancer has spread, the lymph nodes will be removed. Removal of the lymph nodes is called lymphadenectomy.

Recovery from surgery varies depending on the patient's age, overall health, and the extent of the surgery. After surgery, patients may experience pain, weakness, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Dietary modifications may be necessary until the digestive tract heals. Complications that may occur include allergic reaction to anesthesia, formation of a blockage of the intestine, formation of blood clots or bleeding, wound infection, and leakage at the reconnection site.

If the colon cannot be reconnected, a temporary or permanent colostomy is performed, which allows feces from the colon to pass into a collection vessel outside the body. Approximately 15% of patients require a permanent colostomy.

Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is used to reduce the likelihood of metastasis (spreading), shrink tumor size, or slow tumor growth. Chemotherapy is often used after surgery (adjuvant), before surgery (neo-adjuvant), or as the primary therapy if surgery is not indicated (palliative). It may be combined with biological therapy (also called immunotherapy) and radiation therapy.

Adjuvant (after surgery) chemotherapy: The most commonly used intravenous regimen is called FOLFOX, and includes 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) or capecitabine (Xeloda©), leucovorin (folinic acid), and oxaliplatin (Eloxatin©).

Chemotherapy for metastatic disease: Commonly used first line chemotherapy regimens involve the combination of 5-fluorouracil, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin (FOLFOX) with bevacizumab (Avastin©), or 5-fluorouracil, leucovorin, and irinotecan (Camptosar©) (called FOLFIRI) with cetuximab (Erbitux©).

Other chemotherapy combinations and agents: Chemotherapy combinations used to prevent recurrence following surgery or used to shrink the tumors prior to surgery include FOLFOX (5-FU, leucovorin, and oxaliplatin) and FOFIRI (5-FU, leucovorin, and irinotecan). Colorectal cancer with liver metastasis also may be treated using floxuridine (FUDR©) administered through an artery. Other agents for metastatic colon cancer include bortezomib (Velcade©), panitumumab (Vectibix©), oblimersen (Genasense©, G3139), gefitinib and erlotinib (Tarceva©), topotecan (Hycamtin©), Bacillus Calmette-Gu©rin (BCG), and levamisole (Ergamisol©).

Chemotherapy side effects: Side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, inflammation of the intestine (enteritis), diarrhea, mouth irritation (mucositis), low white blood cell count (neutropenia), and hair loss (alopecia). Biological therapy may cause flu-like side effects such as chills, diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches, weakness, and nausea/vomiting.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses X-rays to kill any cancer cells that might remain after surgery, to shrink large tumors before operations so that they can be removed easily, or to relieve symptoms of colon cancer and rectal cancer. The goal of therapy is to damage the tumor without harming the surrounding tissue. If the cancer has spread through the wall of the rectum, radiation treatments in combination with chemotherapy after surgery may be used. This may help prevent cancer from reappearing in the same place. Side effects of radiation therapy may include diarrhea, rectal bleeding, fatigue, reddened and swollen skin, loss of appetite and nausea /vomiting.

Vaccine: A new vaccine, called TroVax©, works by using the patient's own immune system to fight the disease. TroVax© is in clinical trials and has reported positive results for colon cancer therapy.

Follow-up Treatment: Follow-up care is recommended for colorectal cancer patients to ensure that recurrent or metastatic disease is detected as soon as possible. Patients will generally undergo regular physical examinations, fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopies, CT scans, and chest x-rays.

Prognosis: Prognosis depends on the stage of the disease and the overall health of the patient. Overall, colorectal cancer patients have a 5-year survival rate of about 61%. The 5-year survival rate is about 92% when the disease is treated before it has spread (metastasized); 64% when the cancer has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes; and 7% when it has spread to other parts of the body (e.g. liver, lungs).


Good scientific evidence:

Greater celandine: Ukrain™, a semisynthetic drug derived from greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), has been studied in clinical trials of various types of cancer with consistently positive outcomes. However, the quality of the research performed to date is inadequate, and higher quality studies are needed.

Use cautiously in patients taking amphetamines, morphine, hexobarbital, MAOIs, or dopaminergic or serotonergic drugs, or in patients undergoing radiation therapy. Avoid in patients with liver disease or in pregnant and lactating women.

Guided imagery: Early research suggests that guided imagery may help reduce cancer pain. Further research is needed to confirm these results.

Guided imagery is usually intended to supplement medical care, not to replace it, and guided imagery should not be relied on as the sole therapy for a medical problem. Contact a qualified health care provider if mental or physical health is unstable or fragile. Never use guided imagery techniques while driving or doing any other activity that requires strict attention. Use cautiously with physical symptoms that can be brought about by stress, anxiety or emotional upset because imagery may trigger these symptoms. If feeling unusually anxious while practicing guided imagery, or with a history of trauma or abuse, speak with a qualified health care provider before practicing guided imagery.

Meditation: There is good evidence that various types of meditation may help improve quality of life in cancer patients. Studies have shown benefits for mood, sleep quality, and the stresses of treatment. The specific effects of meditation are not fully understood. Additional research is needed in this area.

Use cautiously with underlying mental illnesses. People with psychiatric disorders should consult with their primary mental healthcare professional(s) before starting a program of meditation, and should explore how meditation may or may not fit in with their current treatment plan. Avoid with risk of seizures. The practice of meditation should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques or therapies, and should not be used as the sole approach to illnesses.

Probiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (sometimes referred to as "friendly germs") that help maintain the health of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion. They also help keep potentially harmful organisms in the gut (harmful bacteria and yeasts) under control. Most probiotics come from food sources, especially cultured milk products. There is recent evidence that supplementation with Lactobacillus casei may help reduce the recurrence of colorectal tumors in patients who have previously undergone surgery for colon cancer. Additional research is needed in this area.

Probiotics are generally considered safe and well-tolerated. Diarrhea may be a sign of too many probiotics. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to probiotics. Use cautiously if lactose intolerant. Caution is advised when using probiotics in neonates born prematurely or with immune deficiency.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is an interactive process between a person and a qualified mental health care professional (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, licensed counselor, or other trained practitioner). There is good evidence that psychotherapy may enhance quality of life in cancer patients by reducing emotional distress and aiding in coping with the stresses and challenges of cancer. Therapy may be supportive-expressive therapy, cognitive therapy or group therapy. While some patients seek psychotherapy in hopes of extending survival, there conclusive evidence of effects on medical prognosis is currently lacking. Psychotherapy may help people come to terms with the fact that they may die of cancer, which is the 4th stage of dealing with a terminal illness, including denial, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.

Psychotherapy is not always sufficient to resolve mental or emotional conditions. Psychiatric medication is sometimes needed. The reluctance to seek and use appropriate medication may contribute to worsening of symptoms or increased risk for poor outcomes. In order to be successful, psychotherapy requires considerable personal motivation and investment in the process. This includes consistent attendance and attention to treatment recommendations provided by the practitioner. Not all therapists are sufficiently qualified to work with all problems. The client or patient should seek referrals from trusted sources and should also inquire of the practitioner's training and background before committing to work with a particular therapist. Some forms of psychotherapy evoke strong emotional feelings and expression. This can be disturbing for people with serious mental illness or some medical conditions. Psychotherapy may help with post-partum depression, but is not a substitute for medication, which may be needed in severe cases.

Yoga: Yoga is an ancient system of relaxation, exercise, and healing with origins in Indian philosophy. Several studies report enhanced quality of life in cancer, lower sleep disturbance, decreased stress symptoms and changes in cancer-related immune cells after patients received relaxation, meditation and gentle yoga therapy. Yoga is not recommended as a sole treatment for cancer but may be helpful as an adjunct therapy.

Yoga is generally considered to be safe in healthy individuals when practiced appropriately. Avoid some inverted poses with disc disease of the spine, fragile or atherosclerotic neck arteries, risk for blood clots, extremely high or low blood pressure, glaucoma, detachment of the retina, ear problems, severe osteoporosis, or cervical spondylitis. Certain yoga breathing techniques should be avoided in people with heart or lung disease. Use cautiously with a history of psychotic disorders. Yoga techniques are believed to be safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding when practiced under the guidance of expert instruction (the popular Lamaze techniques are based on yogic breathing). However, poses that put pressure on the uterus, such as abdominal twists, should be avoided in pregnancy.

Unclear or conflicting scientific evidence:

Acupuncture: Acupuncture, or the use of needles to manipulate the "chi" or body energy, originated in China over 5,000 years ago. There has been limited research on acupuncture for cancer pain, and the research that was done was shown to have mixed results. More studies are needed to determine potential benefits. Evidence from several small studies supports use of acupuncture at a specific point on the wrist (P6) to help chemotherapy patients reduce nausea and vomiting. Acupuncture may also reduce the pain associated with cancer.

Needles must be sterile in order to avoid disease transmission. Avoid with valvular heart disease, infections, bleeding disorders or with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding (anticoagulants), medical conditions of unknown origin, or neurological disorders. Avoid on areas that have received radiation therapy and during pregnancy. Use cautiously with pulmonary disease (like asthma or emphysema). Use cautiously in elderly or medically compromised patients, diabetics or with history of seizures. Avoid electroacupuncture with arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) or in patients with pacemakers.

Aloe: Transparent gel from the pulp of the meaty leaves of Aloe vera has been used on the skin for thousands of years to treat wounds, skin infections, burns, and numerous other skin conditions. Dried latex from the inner lining of the leaf has traditionally been used as an oral laxative. Preliminary research suggests that aloe may help in the area of cancer prevention or may aid in the regression of cancerous tumors. Additional research is needed in this area.

Caution is advised when taking aloe supplements as numerous adverse effects including a laxative effect, cramping, dehydration and drug interactions are possible. Aloe should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

American pawpaw: Evidence supporting the use of the American pawpaw (Asimina triloba) tree for cancer treatment in humans is largely anecdotal and subjective. However, use in humans has reported minimal side effects, and evidence from animal and test tube studies suggest that American pawpaw extract does have some anticancer activity. Pawpaw standardized extract has been used for 18 months in patients with various forms of cancer. Well-designed studies on the long-term effects of pawpaw extracts are currently lacking. Pawpaw should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Antineoplastons: Antineoplastons are a group of naturally occurring peptide fractions, which were observed by Stanislaw Burzynski, MD, PhD in the late 1970s to be absent in the urine of cancer patients. There is inconclusive scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of antineoplastons in the treatment of cancer. Several preliminary human studies (case series, phase I/II trials) have examined antineoplaston types A2, A5, A10, AS2-1, and AS2-5 for a variety of cancer types. It remains unclear if antineoplastons are effective, or what doses may be safe. Until better research is available, no clear conclusion can be drawn.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to antineoplastons. Use cautiously with high medical or psychiatric risk, an active infection due to a possible decrease in white blood cells, high blood pressure, heart conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease or damage, or kidney disease or damage. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Arabinoxylan: Arabinoxylan is made by altering the outer shell of rice bran using enzymes from Hyphomycetes mycelia mushroom extract. Arabinoxylan has been found to improve immune reactions in patients with diabetes and cancer of various types. Arabinoxylan products may contain high calcium and phosphorus levels, which may be harmful for patients with compromised renal (kidney) function. Caution is advised when taking arabinoxylan supplements, as numerous adverse effects including drug interactions are possible. Arabinoxylan should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Aromatherapy: Healing with fragrant oils has been used for thousands of years. Aromatherapy is often used in people with chronic illnesses (frequently in combination with massage), with the intention to improve quality of life or well-being. There is currently not enough scientific evidence to form a firm conclusion about the effectiveness of aromatherapy for quality of life in cancer.

Essential oils should only be used on the skin in areas without irritation. Essential oils should be administered in a carrier oil to avoid toxicity. Avoid with a history of allergic dermatitis. Use cautiously if driving or operating heavy machinery. Avoid consuming essential oils. Avoid direct contact of undiluted oils with mucous membranes. Use cautiously if pregnant.

Art therapy: Art therapy involves the application of a variety of art modalities including drawing, painting, clay and sculpture. Art therapy enables the expression of inner thoughts or feelings when verbalization is difficult or not possible. Limited evidence suggests that art therapy may be of benefit in cancer caregiving for families of cancer patients. Possible benefits include reduced stress, lowered anxiety, increased positive emotions and increased positive communication with cancer patients and health care professionals. Art therapy may also reduce pain and other symptoms in cancer patients. More studies are needed to determine how best to use this form of intervention with this population. Art therapy may also benefit children hospitalized with leukemia during and after painful procedures. Limited available study suggests that art therapy improves cooperation with treatment. Children requested art therapy again when procedures were repeated, and parents reported that children were more manageable after art therapy.

Art therapy may evoke distressing thoughts or feelings. Use under the guidance of a qualified art therapist or other mental health professional. Some forms of art therapy use potentially harmful materials. Only materials known to be safe should be used. Related clean-up materials (like turpentine or mineral spirits) that release potentially toxic fumes should only be used with good ventilation.

Astragalus: Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries for its immune enhancing properties. Although early laboratory and animal studies report immune stimulation and reduced cancer cell growth associated with the use of astragalus, reliable human evidence in these areas is currently lacking. In Chinese medicine, astragalus-containing herbal mixtures are also sometimes used with the intention to reduce side effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Astragalus-containing herbal combination formulas may also have beneficial effects in aplastic anemia. Due to a lack of well-designed research, a firm conclusion cannot be drawn.

Caution is advised when taking astragalus supplements, as numerous adverse effects including drug interactions are possible. Astragalus should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Baikal skullcap: Although the outcomes of early studies using baikal skullcap for cancer are promising, high-quality clinical studies are needed in this area before a conclusion can be made. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to Baikal skullcap (Scutellaria barbata), its constituents, or members of the Lamiaceae family. Use cautiously if taking sedatives and/or operating heavy machinery. Use cautiously if taking antineoplastic (anticancer) agents or agents metabolized by cytochrome P450 enzymes. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding. Baikal skullcap is an ingredient in PC-SPES, a product that has been recalled from the U.S. market and should not be used.

Bee pollen: Bee pollen is considered a highly nutritious food because it contains a balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, enzymes, and essential amino acids. Research has found that bee pollen may reduce some adverse effects of cancer treatment side effects. Additional study is needed before a firm recommendation can be made. Caution is advised when taking bee pollen supplements as allergic reactions may occur in sensitive individuals. Bee pollen should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Beta-glucan: Treatment with a beta-glucan, called lentinan, plus chemotherapy (S-1) may help prolong the lives of patients with cancer that has returned or cannot be operated on. More research is needed in this area. Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to beta-glucan. When taken by mouth, beta-glucan is generally considered safe. Use cautiously with AIDS or AIDS-related complex (ARC). Avoid using particulate beta-glucan. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Bitter melon: Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is used in Avurvedic medicine from India to lower blood sugar levels. Research has also found that bitter melon extracts may be beneficial in cancer therapies. MAP30, a protein isolated from bitter melon extract, is reported to possess anti-cancer effects in laboratory studies. Potential anti-cancer effects have not been studied appropriately in humans. Caution is advised when taking bitter melon supplements, as numerous adverse effects including blood sugar lowering and drug interactions are possible. Bitter melon should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Black tea: Black tea (Camellia sinensis) is from the same plant as green tea, but the leaves are processed differently. Black tea usually contains more caffeine than green tea. Several studies have explored a possible association between regular consumption of black tea and rates of cancer in several populations. This research has yielded conflicting results, with some studies suggesting benefits, and others reporting no effects. Laboratory and animal studies report that components of tea, such as polyphenols, have antioxidant properties and effects against tumors. However, effects in humans remain unclear, and these components may be more common in green tea rather than in black tea. Some animal and laboratory research suggests that components of black tea may actually be carcinogenic, or cancer causing, although effects in humans are not clear. Overall, the relationship of black tea consumption and human cancer prevention remains undetermined. Additionally, although there is evidence from animal and laboratory studies that black tea may help prevent colorectal cancer, human studies are limited in this area as well. Additional research is needed.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to caffeine or tannins. Skin rash and hives have been reported with caffeine ingestion. Use caution with diabetes. Use cautiously if pregnant. Heavy caffeine intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Very high doses of caffeine have been linked with birth defects. Caffeine is transferred into breast milk. Caffeine ingestion by infants can lead to sleep disturbances/insomnia. Infants nursing from mothers consuming greater than 500 milligrams of caffeine daily have been reported to experience tremors and heart rhythm abnormalities. Tea consumption by infants has been linked to anemia, decreased iron metabolism, and irritability.

Bovine cartilage: In early study, bovine tracheal cartilage (preparations such as Catrix© and VitaCarte©) has been studied for the treatment of cancer with encouraging results. High quality clinical research is needed to better determine the effectiveness of bovine tracheal cartilage preparations for cancer treatment.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to bovine cartilage or any of its constituents. Use cautiously with cancer, renal (kidney) failure, or hepatic (liver) failure. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Bromelain: Bromelain is a sulfur-containing digestive enzyme (proteins which help with digestion) that is extracted from the stem and the fruit of the pineapple plant (Ananas comosus). There is not enough information to recommend for or against the use of bromelain in the treatment of cancer, either alone or in addition to other therapies. One small study found that a bromelain supplement decreased tumor size in 12 breast cancer patients. Patients took the supplements for different periods of time, lasting from months to years. Caution is advised when taking bromelain supplements, as numerous adverse effects including blood thinning and drug interactions are possible. Bromelain should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Calcium: Several large prospective studies have found increased calcium intake to be weakly associated with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer. Further studies are needed to verify these results. Treatment of colorectal cancer should only be done under the supervision of a qualified healthcare professional.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to calcium or lactose. High doses taken by mouth may cause kidney stones. Avoid with hypercalcaemia (high levels of calcium in the blood), hypercalciuria (high levels of calcium in urine), hyperparathyroidism (high levels of parathyroid hormone), bone tumors, digitalis toxicity, ventricular fibrillation (ventricles of the heart contract in unsynchronized rhythm), kidney stones, kidney disease, or sarcoidosis (inflammation of lymph nodes and various other tissues). Calcium supplements made from dolomite, oyster shells, or bone meal may contain unacceptable levels of lead. Use cautiously with achlorhydria (absence of hydrochloric acid in gastric juices) or arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Calcium appears to be safe in pregnant or breastfeeding women; talk to a healthcare provider to determine appropriate dosing during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Cat's claw: Originally found in Peru, the use of cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has been said to date back to the Inca civilization, possibly as far back as 2,000 years. Cat's claw has anti-inflammatory properties, and several low-quality studies suggest that cat's claw may slow tumor growth. However, this research is early and has not identified specific types of cancer that may benefit; thus, the results are not clear. A few studies suggest that cat's claw may also boost the immune system. Caution is advised when taking cat's claw supplements, as numerous adverse effects including blood thinning and drug interactions are possible. Cat's claw should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Chaparral: Chaparral was used by the Native Americans for various health conditions. The chaparral component nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) has been evaluated as a treatment for cancer but due to risk of toxicity is considered unsafe and not recommended for use. Chaparral and NDGA have been associated with cases of kidney and liver failure, liver cirrhosis, kidney cysts, and kidney cancer in humans. In response to these reports, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) removed chaparral from its "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) list in 1970. Chaparral and NDGA are generally considered unsafe and are not recommended for use.

Avoid if allergic to chaparral or any of its components, including nordihydroguaiaretic acid. Use cautiously if taking blood thinners (anticoagulants), blood sugar medication, or drugs that are broken down by the liver (like amiodarone, phenobarbital, valproic acid). Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk, and do not use immediately after these procedures. Use cautiously if driving or operating heavy machinery. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Chlorophyll: Preliminary evidence in suggest that chlorophyll may aid in the reduction of side effects associated with photodynamic therapies, such as those used in management of malignant tumors. Further research is required to support the use of chlorophyll as a laser therapy adjunct for cancer treatment.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to chlorophyll or any of its metabolites. Use cautiously with photosensitivity, compromised liver function, diabetes or gastrointestinal conditions or obstructions. Use cautiously if taking immunosuppressant agents or antidiabetes agents. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Chrysanthemum: Early study indicates that hua-sheng-ping (includes Chrysanthemum morifolium, Glycyrrhiza uralensis, and Panax notoginseng) may be beneficial for patients with precancerous lesions. However, more research is needed.

Avoid if allergic or hypersensitive to Chrysanthemum, its constituents, or members of the Asteraceae/Compositae family, such as dandelion, goldenrod, ragweed, sunflower, and daisies. Use cautiously if taking medication for gout, cancer, or HIV. Use cautiously with compromised immune systems or if taking immunomodulators. Avoid with photosensitivity or if taking photosensitizers. Avoid large acute or chronic doses of ingested pyrethrin. Avoid pyrethrin with compromised liver function, epilepsy, or asthma. Avoid ocular exposure to pyrethrin. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Coenzyme Q10: Further research is needed to determine if coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) may be of benefit for cancer when used with other therapies.

Allergy associated with Coenzyme Q10 supplements has not been reported, although rash and itching have been reported rarely. Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk and do not use immediately after these procedures. Use caution with a history of blood clots, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke, or with anticoagulants (blood thinners) or antiplatelet drugs (like aspirin, warfarin, clopidogrel (like Plavix©), or blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol or thyroid drugs. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Copper: Copper is a mineral that occurs naturally in many foods, including vegetables, legumes, nuts, grains and fruits, as well as shellfish, avocado, and beef (organs such as liver). Preliminary research reports that lowering copper levels theoretically may arrest the progression of cancer by inhibiting blood vessel growth (angiogenesis). Copper intake has not been identified as a risk factor for the development or progression of cancer. Copper is potentially unsafe when used orally in higher doses than the RDA. Copper supplements should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.

Cranberry: Several laboratory studies have reported positive effects of proanthocyanidins, flavonoid components of cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) and other fruits such as blueberries, grape seed, and pomegranate, on health. Based on early laboratory research, cranberry has been proposed for cancer prevention. Additional study is needed in humans before a conclusion can be made.

Avoid if allergic to cranberries, blueberries or other plants of the Vaccinium species. Sweetened cranberry juice may effect blood sugar levels. Use cautiously with a history of kidney stones. Avoid more than the amount usually found in foods if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Dandelion: Limited animal research does not provide a clear assessment of the effects of dandelion on tumor growth. Well-conducted human studies are needed to better determine dandelion's effects on cancer.

Avoid if allergic to chamomile, feverfew, honey, yarrow, or any related plants such as aster, daisies, sunflower, chrysanthemum, mugwort, ragweed, or ragwort. Use cautiously with diabetes or bleeding disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), kidney or liver diseases, or a history of stroke or electrolyte disorders. Monitor potassium blood levels. Stop use two weeks before surgery/dental/diagnostic procedures with bleeding risk and do not use immediately after these procedures. Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding.

Echinacea: There is currently a lack of clear human evidence that echinacea affects any type of cancer. The evidence from a small number of clinical trials evaluating efficacy of echinacea in the treatment of radiation-induced leukopenia (decrease in white blood cells) is equivocal. Studies have used the combination product Esberitox©, which includes extracts of echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and pallida) root, white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) leaf, and wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) root. Additional clinical studies are needed to make a conclusion.

Caution is advised when taking echinacea supplements, as numerous adverse effects including drug interactions are possible. Echinacea should not be used if pregnant or breast-feeding, unless otherwise directed by a doctor.


Fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may help protect from developing cancer. Eating five or more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables every day is important for health. A variety of produce should be included in the patient's diet such as kale, chard, spinach, dark green lettuce, peppers, and squash.

Fat intake reduction: People who eat high-fat diets may have a higher rate of colorectal cancer. It is important to limit saturated fats from animal sources such as red meat. Other foods that contain saturated fat include milk, cheese, ice cream, coconut and palm oils. It is best to restrict the total fat intake to about 30% of the daily calories, with no more than 10% coming from saturated fats.

Vitamins and minerals: Calcium, magnesium, pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and folic acid may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Good food sources of calcium include skim or low-fat milk and other dairy products, shrimp, and soy products such as tofu and soy milk. Magnesium is found in leafy greens, nuts, peas and beans. Food sources of vitamin B6 include grains, legumes, peas, spinach, carrots, potatoes, dairy foods and meat. Folic acid is found in dark leafy greens such as spinach and lettuce, and in legumes, melons, bananas, broccoli and orange juice.

Alcohol consumption avoidance: Consuming moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol, such as more than one drink a day for women and two for men, may increase the risk of developing colon cancer. This is particularly true if the individual has a close relative, such as a parent, child or sibling with cancer.

Smoking cessation: Smoking can increase the risk of colorectal and other cancers.

Exercise and weight control: Controlling weight and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Exercise, including light walking, stimulates movement through the bowel and reduces the time the colon is exposed to harmful substances (carcinogens) that may cause cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week if the individual can tolerate it.

Screening tests: It is best to follow the early detection screening guidelines to help find colon or rectal cancer. When these cancers are found and treated early, they can often be cured. Screening can also find polyps, and their removal helps prevent some cancers.

Anti-inflammatory drugs: Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and celecoxib (Celebrex©), appear to help prevent the growth of polyps. They may also help reduce polyps for some people whose family members tend to develop polyps.

Statin drugs: Statin drugs are commonly used to lower blood cholesterol levels. The regular use of these drugs has recently been found to decrease the risk of developing colon cancer. However, another study found no benefit between taking stains and colon cancer prevention, but the use of statins did seem to reduce the risk of stage IV cancer.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (


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