Thoughts on Cancer Screening

Young boy in red shirt and gardening gloves leans over a large planter filled with lush green veggies
Photo: Our grateful thanks to CDC on Unsplash.

by Connie Hernandez, ND

In a perfect world, everyone would eat and live in ways that have been thoroughly shown to help prevent cancer.

In that perfect world, we would simply screen people and suggest any changes a particular individual might make to improve their odds of preventing cancer – instead of screening only to detect existing cancers.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently published a provocative article: “Estimated Lifetime Gained With Cancer Screening Tests: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.”

The study concluded that most common screening tests have not been shown to extend life, with the single exception of colorectal cancer screening with sigmoidoscopy.

The study analyzed other methods of colorectal screening as well, such as mammography for breast cancer, PSA for prostate cancer, and computed tomography used to screen smokers and former smokers for lung cancer.

A problem with these methods is that they place patients at risk through over-diagnosis and potential over-treatment.

That’s because the diagnostic technology carries a potential of harm – for example, from radiation over-exposure with frequent mammograms.

The patient is placed at further risk through potentially damaging treatments that may not have been needed.

Fortunately, there are better tests that can help us know when and what we need to change before cancer can occur.

  1. For example, it is possible to treat HPV viruses, which are known to increase the risk of cervical cancer. HPV typing can sort out the problematic HPV viruses.  (Increasingly, underlying viral issues are related to cancer risk.)
  2. PAP smears can indicate dysplastic changes before cancer occurs.
  3. Viral tests can indicate whether particular viruses are an issue for a given patient. The viruses can then be eradicated in hopes of preventing the occurrence of cancer.
  4. Breast thermography detects metabolic changes that indicate when preventive breast health measures would be useful.
  5. With prostate cancer, while conventional medicine tends simply to measure total PSA, the combination of total PSA, free PSA, and percentage of free PSA is far more predictive.
  6. In addition, using an individual’s initial values as a baseline, and comparing the patient’s values over time, is far more useful. 
  7. Cancer antigens are becoming increasingly available, such as the CA125 for ovarian cancer and CEA for colon cancer, although they tend to be more useful for tracking existing cancers than for preventing or diagnosing cancer.
  8. Even comprehensive bloodwork is useful for evaluating risk.
  9. Low vitamin D is correlated with many cancers.
  10. Precipitous drops in cholesterol without dietary or lifestyle change or meds to lower cholesterol can indicate developing problems.
  11. Altered ratios of neutrophils and lymphocytes also point to issues that need to be addressed. Panels such as the Pacific Naturopathic Wellness Panel include parameters such as these, plus inflammatory values. Repeating the panel yearly allows us to compare values “you-to-you.” Addressing issues before they manifest in physical form is vital to cancer prevention.
  12. When considering hormonal cancers, urinary testing of estrogen and other hormonal metabolites can give us a picture of overproduction of inflammatory or pro-carcinogenic metabolites. These pathways can be altered when we know they are an issue, thus preventing the development of pathology.

Even without potential screening tests, we know what it takes to help prevent cancer from occurring. Dietary and lifestyle modification are extremely powerful medicine! They extend quality of life and length of life as well.

For information about the services we offer, we invite you to get in touch in any of these convenient ways: (1) give us a call at 650-961-1660, (2) use the Contact Form, or (3) follow the link to Consultations – Pacific Naturopathic. Thank you!