Are We Winning the War on Cancer? The Good News

Today is World Cancer Day. According to the 2008 World Cancer Declaration, the primary goal of the global observance is to help raise people's awareness of cancer and to significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer by 2020.

So, how have we been doing so far?  

According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there were 14.1 million new cancer cases in 2012 worldwide, and by 2030, the global burden is expected to grow to 21.7 million new cancer cases.

But the news is not all bleak. According to recent figures released by the American Cancer Society, “fewer Americans are getting cancer, and more of those who do are surviving the disease.”

Does this mean that Americans have struck the holy grail of cancer treatment?

Not really. Certainly, progress has been made in some areas, and there are some real success stories. But often, those can be linked to legislation and financial resources devoted to early detection, rather than improvement of the treatments themselves.

Jost_Haller_-_Saint_George_slaying_the_dragon,_Unterlinden_Museum,_Colmar Saint George slaying the dragon by Olivier. Color on wood. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France. Creative Commons

“A decline in consumption of cigarettes is credited with being the most important factor in the drop in cancer death rates,” commented Dr. Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society.

The decrease of new colon cancer cases has been attributed in part to more people getting colonoscopies, which can prevent cancer through the removal of precancerous polyps.

As for the decline in the number of reported prostate cancer cases, it is mainly due to the fact that fewer cases are now being detected: PSA testing (blood test used primarily to screen for prostate cancer) is no longer being routinely used because of high rates of over-diagnosis, according to the American Cancer Society.

Other cancers are on the rise, including leukemia, cancers of the tongue, tonsil, small intestine, liver, pancreas, kidney, thyroid, vulvar, pancreas, as well as endometrial cancers, male breast cancers, testicular cancers, and throat cancers.

For individuals aged 60 to 69 years, the incidence of liver cancer increased by 8 percent each year between 2010 and 2014 and by 3 percent for those 70 years of age and older.

The fact is that at the beginning of the last century, one person in twenty would get cancer. In the 1940s, it was one out of every sixteen individuals. In the 1970s, it was one person out of ten. Today, one out of three individuals will get cancer in the course of their lives.

Sadly, even the incidence of childhood cancer follows the same trend, averaging a 0.6 percent increase per year since the mid-1970s and resulting in an overall increase of 24 percent over the last forty years. Where shall we run for safety?

"On World Cancer Day, we have an opportunity to collectively examine cancer control strategies to identify winning formulas that will accelerate progress,” says Heather Bryant, Vice President of cancer control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.

So, what are the best strategies? Where are the winning formulas?

Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have remained for decades the most commonly prescribed treatments; and despite its reputation as the go-to cancer treatment, chemotherapy has an average 5-year survival success rate of just over 2 percent for all cancers and can, by itself, contribute to the recurrence of cancer by making cancer cells more resilient. Moreover, survival gains for the most common forms of cancer are still measured in additional months of life, not years.

Should we be spending more money on research?

Money is not the real problem. Cancer is an industry worth billions. As Dr. Margaret Cuomo (sister of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo) wrote in 2013,

More than 40 years after the war on cancer was declared, we have spent billions fighting the good fight. The National Cancer Institute has spent some $90 billion on research and treatment during that time.

Some 260 nonprofit organizations in the United States have dedicated themselves to cancer—more than the number established for heart disease, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke combined. Together, these 260 organizations have budgets that top $2.2 billion.

Working with the self-fulfilling assumption that the cancer market will grow, not shrink, the cancer industry has lost its way. “The search for knowledge has become an end unto itself rather than the means to an end,” explains Clifton Leaf, author of a 2004 article that made the cover of Fortune .

On the cover, in capital letters is the question: “Why We’re Losing the War On Cancer” Under this provocative title, an intriguing tagline appears in parentheses: “And How to Win it.”

In this story, Leaf lists a number of “miracles cures that weren’t,” including radiation therapy, Interferon, Interleukin-2, Endostatin, and Gleevec. He concludes that we need to “change the way we think about cancer” and went on to quote Eli Lilly’s Homer Pearce:

I think everyone believes that at the end of the day, cancer is going to be treated with multiple targeted agents—maybe in combination with traditional chemotherapy drugs, maybe not. Because that’s where the biology is leading us, it’s a future that we have to embrace—though it will definitely require different models of cooperation.

But what if the solution has always been there, just overlooked by the pharmaceutical industry?

Natural products have long been recognized as excellent leads for drug development. The earliest anticancer drugs approved by the FDA and derived from natural products were the vinca alkaloids (vincristine in 1963 and vinblastine in 1965), which were isolated from Madagascar periwinkle plants found growing in Jamaica and the Philippines.

Similarly, Paclitaxel was first isolated from the bark of the Pacific yew tree (Taxus brevifolia) in the state of Washington as part of a collection program undertaken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

However, only a new, patentable, molecule will bring a significant return on investment. Unfortunately, when a molecule is modified and synthesized in order to conform to patent law requirements, it often becomes highly toxic. But since it is the only one able to command a substantial return on investment, it will be the only one considered for development.

What if the best treatment is natural, and is of no interest to pharmaceutical companies? Today, it would go unnoticed. The system is distorted.  

Research of the late Mirko Beljanski, PhD, one of the first green molecular biologists, shows that cancer can be addressed with new and non-toxic ways, thanks to natural molecules able to selectively target cancer cells.

Beljanski was called upon by President Mitterrand of France to treat his prostate cancer, allowing him to reach his second term in office, but upon his death, Beljanski became the subject of relentless persecution aimed at wiping out his legacy.

Since 1999, The Beljanski Foundation, a New York City-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, has sponsored research on the anticancer properties of the extracts discovered by Dr. Beljanski. These research programs—conducted with several high-profile institutions including Columbia University Medical Center, Kansas University Medical Center, and Cancer Treatment Centers of America--have all led to many peer-reviewed publications.

The work done by the Foundation has enabled those institutions to confirm that two of the natural molecules discovered by Beljanski:

•           Are selectively active on many kinds of cancer (including prostate, ovaries, pancreas)

•           Help with precancerous cells (like elevated PSA levels)

•           Are effective on cancers that no longer respond to chemotherapy

•           Work in synergy with many chemotherapy drugs, all without side effects

•           Work against cancer stem cells.

Additionally, a clinical trial confirmed the efficacy of another of Dr. Beljanski’s discoveries for maintaining a healthy level of platelets during chemotherapy treatment.

Health care systems around the world are all plagued by ever-increasing costs and long waits at hospitals for expensive conventional treatment. Some systems work better than others in terms of reimbursements, accessibility, and coverage, but they are all straining under the pressure of spiraling cost and reduced access.

Yet, the main issue is not so much whether the treatment is expensive or affordable, but rather whether it is effective. Even an inexpensive treatment, which is not effective, still costs too much.

By changing patent laws that force medical companies to create a new man-made molecule in order to be able to patent and make money on it, by changing the way scientific grants are awarded, by creating a patient-centered and health-centered health system rather than a sick-centered health system, the government could possibly create a new way to look at cancer drugs and get us closer than ever of winning the War on Cancer.

Government should also stop preventing dietary supplement manufacturers from making any health claims, even when backed by solid science.  It only deprives the public access to useful information. Only the funding and sharing of scientific information will allow us to take back our power over our health.  

The good news is that more and more good doctors are refusing to be turned into five-minute prescription dispensers. They recognize that medicine is a holistic, multifaceted discipline. They value nutrition, psychology, and environmental medicine as part of their medical practices.

Meanwhile, patients are becoming more and more empowered and educated. In growing numbers, patients are seeking new personalized solutions to replace the old one-size-fits-all approach to medicine. The stats show that while we live in a world increasingly toxic, more and more great individuals courageously and relentlessly fight their cancers—and win.

All of them have prevailed by taking control of their lives, and making sure that “they never, never, never give up,” as Sir Winston Churchill, an expert at winning war, once advised.  

Sylvie Beljanski is the vice president of The Beljanski Foundation, author of Winning the War on Cancer: The Epic Journey Towards a Natural Cure (June 2018), and daughter of the late French molecular biologist Mirko Beljanski, PhD.

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