I recently received this email from Lorraine in Australia, echoing a question that I am frequently posed: “I strongly believe in using natural medicines, lifestyle and nutrition to prevent, and to heal the body of cancer. However although I know that the success rate for overcoming cancer using chemo is very low, I have never heard any success rates for using nutrition. Do you know if there is anywhere I can get information on this? People I send info to want to know success rates and I’m unable to tell them. I also know three people whose relatives attended cancer clinics in Mexico — and died of cancer.”
So here’s my response: First, as concerns Mexican clinics, of course people die of cancer — whether they are in Mexican or Australian or American clinics. Going to a clinic in Mexico (of which there MANY — not all of them excellent) and often as a last resort is not proof that nutritional therapies do or do not work. (There are also clinics in Germany, for example, where doctors are achieving excellent successes with nutritional and other complementary therapies.)
Second, as to nutritional therapy success rates in general, I wish it were easier, but it is very difficult to pinpoint the success rate of nutritional therapy for cancer because of several factors:
Reasons That Nutritional Therapy Success Rates are Poorly Documented
- The term “nutrition” encompasses all kind of diets and supplements (some I do not even agree with) and they are not controlled by strict protocol the way chemo is. Some vitamin/mineral studies like those I mention below have been promising, but using fractionated nutrients is not my first choice for nutritional therapy anyway. While there are only a few vitamins and minerals, there are tens of thousands of cancer-fighting phytonutrients in the plant kingdom.
- Even the word “success” is ambiguous. You can measure success in many different ways – longer survival, quality of life, fewer complications (most patients with cancer die of malnutrition, toxemia and infections), etc.
- Results from nutritional programs also depend on whether the patient has chosen a nutritional program instead of conventional care, along with or after conventional care, or whether the patient has turned to nutrition as a last resort after his/her body is totally depleted from treatment.
- The success of nutritional programs also depends on the biochemical individuality of each patient and whether that has been adequately evaluated with laboratory testing and appropriately addressed with a specially-tailored program of nutrients and detoxification. Listen to Dr. Linda Isaacs’ podcast to learn more.
- Cancer may be due to — and therefore respond to — variables other than diet and nutrition. Whether a nutrition program “works” often depends on whether the factors that caused the disease were primarily behavioral (like smoking and drinking, environmental, toxicity-induced, or stress-mediated, as well as poor diet and nutritional deficiencies, and whether all have been completely addressed.
- Those who follow nutritional programs may employ other complementary and alternative medical (CAM) therapies and therefore it is extremely hard to isolate nutritional factors – and certainly harder to double-blind lifestyle factors — for research purposes.
- There is very limited funding for nutritional studies because it is nearly impossible to patent foods and other natural products. In general, cancer research is extremely expensive and only drug companies who manufacture the chemo drugs which they can patent and which can produce a huge return on invested research dollars can afford that research.
- There are also professional prejudices and political factors from those in the “cancer establishment” that get in the way of efforts by health professionals and nutraceutical companies to study, publish, and clinically implement the results of nutritional therapies for cancer.
The Good News
Nonetheless, there is some good news. We can state from our own observations and experience with 30,000 patients that everyone who is able to follow our general dietary guidelines and take some nutritional supplements does better than expected – whether the patient is undergoing conventional treatment or not. Moreover, there are some fascinating published studies that compare cancer survival outcomes in nutritionally supported and non-supported patients and some very encouraging research about the mechanisms by which diet and nutrition can influence cancer outcome. You can access a lot of that information in my book, Kitchen Chemotherapy, and in my Alphabetical Beat Cancer Diet Guide.
Published Studies on Nutrition and Cancer Survival
Let me share a few intriguing studies. At West Virginia Medical School, oncologists randomized 65 bladder cancer patients into two groups. Group one (control group) received a one-a-day vitamin supplement providing the RDA (recommended daily amount), plus placebo pills. Group two received the RDA supplement plus 40,000 IU of vitamin A, 100 mg of vitamin B6, 2000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E and 90 mg of zinc. After 10 months, tumors recurred in 80 percent of the patients in the control group but only in 40 percent in the megavitamin group. Essentially, high-dose nutrients cut tumor recurrence in half.  This approach is impressive but not necessarily what we recommend at BeatCancer.org unless you are under the care of a medical nutritionist who has determined these are your individual nutritional deficiencies.
In a clinical trial conducted at the Hoffer Clinic in Victoria, British Columbia, Drs. Abram Hoffer and Linus Pauling studied 129 cancer patients receiving conventional oncologic care. 98 of the patients followed a diet of unprocessed food low in fat, dairy and sugar coupled with therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals. The control group of 31 patients who did not receive nutritional support lived an average of less than six months, whereas the 98 cancer patients who did receive nutritional support lived an average of more than six years –including 47 patients with adult leukemia, lung, liver and pancreatic cancers. 32 women with reproductive organ cancers (breast, cervix, ovary, and uterus) lived more than 10 years. Nutrition support was found to increase average life span 12 to 21 times for 80 percent of these patients .
In another study published in 1988 in the International Journal of Biosocial and Medical Research, therapeutic nutrition was also shown to help cancer patients. Of the 200 cancer patients studied who experienced so-called “spontaneous regression,” 87 percent had made a major change in diet (eating more vegetables and less meat) and 65 percent had used nutritional supplements. 
In a study of nearly 1500 pancreatic cancer patients published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, of those who made no dietary changes, only 10 percent were alive after one year, whereas 52 percent of those who committed to a diet consisting primarily of brown rice and vegetables were still alive after one year. 
The Bottom Line
The decision to use an all-natural approach or a combination of conventional and nutritional therapies is up to each individual patient, in concert with his/her doctor, family, God and conscience. While we never tell patients that they should or should not take a certain treatment, we certainly encourage everyone dealing with cancer to learn about nutritional support from our blog posts, podcasts, recipe books and other materials on our e-store. And if you want personalized coaching on diet and lifestyle or resources for other CAM approaches, feel free to contact one of our cancer counselors.
 Lamm DL et al. J Urol, 151: 21-26, 1994.
 Hoffer A & Pauling L. J Orthomolecular Med, 5(3): 143-154, 1990.
 Foster HD. Int J Biosoc Res, 10(1): 17-20, 1988.
 Carter JP. J Amer Coll Nutr, 12(3): 209-215, 1993.