ImmunoPower: Nutrition in Cancer Treatment
by Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS
Vice President of Nutrition for Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Inc.
(order at 1-800-444-2524 or on the Web at

Excerpted from the book, IMMUNOPOWER, by Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS, Nutrition Times Press, Inc. 1999, available from Bookworld 1-800-444-2524, (international 941-758-8094),
 fax 941-727-3105, or on the Web at
Used with permission.

After spending $39 billion in research for the 28 year "war on cancer" to find a "magic bullet" cure, we now have a 13% increase in the incidence of cancer, a 7% increase in the death rate, and five year survival is virtually unchanged at 50%. Basically, the medical therapies of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery have not cured the poor prognostic cancers, including brain, lung, liver, pancreas, melanoma, sarcoma, and advanced cases of breast, cervical, uterine, prostate, and colon cancer. Yet, nutrition is a very promising, low cost, non-toxic, and scientifically valid approach to improving the outcome from medical treatment of cancer. Adjuvant nutrition and traditional oncology are synergistic, not antagonistic. This unique combination will likely blossom throughout the 1990s into the accepted mode of humane, cost effective, and clinically effective cancer treatment. Briefly, the advantages of implementing nutrition as part of comprehensive cancer therapy include:


In the early phase of nutrition research, nutrient functions were linked to classical nutrient deficiency syndromes: e.g. vitamin C and scurvy, vitamin D and rickets, niacin and pellagra. Today nutrition researchers find various levels of functions for nutrients. For example, let's look at the "dose dependent response" from niacin:

20 milligrams daily will prevent pellagra

100 mg becomes a useful vasodilator

2000 mg is a hypocholesterolemic agent endorsed by the National Institutes of Health.

While 10 iu of vitamin E is considered the RDA, 800 iu was shown to improve immune functions in healthy older adults. While 10 mg of vitamin C will prevent scurvy in most adults, the RDA is 60 mg, and 300 mg was shown to extend lifespan in males by an average of 6 years.

The dietary requirement of a nutrient may well depend on the health state of the individual and what you are trying to achieve. In animal studies, 7.5 mg of vitamin E per kilogram of body weight was found to satisfactorily support normal growth and spleen to body weight ratio. Yet, consumption at twice that level of vitamin E was essential to prevent deficiency symptoms of myopathy and testis degeneration. Intake at 7 times base level of vitamin E was required to prevent red blood cell hemolysis. Intake of 27 times base level provided optimal T- and B-lymphocyte responses to mitogens.

You can accelerate the rate of a reaction by increasing temperature, surface area, or concentration of substrates or enzymes. Clearly, above-RDA levels of nutrients can offer safe and cost-effective enhancement of metabolic processes, including immune functions. Therapeutic dosages of nutrients may be able to reduce tumor recurrence, selectively slow cancer cells, stimulate the immune system to more actively destroy tumor cells, alter the genetic expression of cancer, and more.


A position paper from the American College of Physicians published in 1989 basically stated that TPN had no benefit on the outcome of cancer patients. Unfortunately, this article excluded malnourished patients, which is bizarre, since TPN only treats malnutrition, not cancer. Most of the scientific literature shows that weight loss drastically increases the mortality rate for most types of cancer, while also lowering the response to chemotherapy. Chemo and radiation therapy are sufficient biological stressors alone to induce malnutrition.

In the early years of oncology, it was thought that one could starve the tumor out of the host. Pure malnutrition (cachexia) is responsible for somewhere between 22% and 67% of all cancer deaths. Up to 80% of all cancer patients have reduced levels of serum albumin, which is a leading indicator of protein and calorie malnutrition. Dietary protein restriction in the cancer patient does not affect the composition or growth rate of the tumor, but does restrict the patient's well being.

Parenteral feeding improves tolerance to chemotherapeutic agents and immune responses. Malnourished cancer patients who were provided TPN had a mortality rate of 11% while a comparable group without TPN feeding had a 100% mortality rate. Pre-operative TPN in patients undergoing surgery for GI cancer provided general reduction in the incidence of wound infection, pneumonia, major complications and mortality. Patients who were the most malnourished experienced a 33% mortality and 46% morbidity rate, while those patients who were properly nourished had a 3% mortality rate with an 8% morbidity rate.

In 20 adult hospitalized patients on TPN, the mean daily vitamin C needs were 975 mg, which is over 16 times the RDA, with the range being 350-2250 mg. Of the 139 lung cancer patients studied, most tested deficient or scorbutic (clinical vitamin C deficiency). Another study of cancer patients found that 46% tested scorbutic while 76% were below acceptable levels for serum ascorbate. Experts now recommend the value of nutritional supplements, especially in patients who require prolonged TPN support.


1) Avoiding malnutrition. 40% or more of cancer patients actually die from malnutrition, not from the cancer. Nutrition therapy is essential to arrest malnutrition.

2) Reducing the toxic effects of conventional medical treatment. Properly nourished patients experience less nausea, malaise, immune suppression, hair loss and organ toxicity than patients on routine oncology programs. Antioxidants, like beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium appear to enhance the effectiveness of chemo, radiation, and hyperthermia while minimizing damage to the patient's normal cells; thus making therapy more of a "selective toxin." An optimally nourished cancer patient can better tolerate the rigors of cytotoxic therapy.

VITAMIN K. While in simplistic theory, vitamin K might inhibit the effectiveness of anticoagulant therapy (coumadin), actually vitamin K seems to augment the anti-neoplastic activity of coumadin. Patients with mouth cancer who were pre-treated with injections of K-3 prior to radiation therapy doubled their odds (20% vs. 39%) for 5 year survival and disease free status. Animals with implanted tumors had greatly improved anti-cancer effects from all chemotherapy drugs tested when vitamins K and C were given in combination. In cultured leukemia cells, vitamins K and E added to the chemotherapy drugs of 5FU (fluorouracil) and leucovorin provided a 300% improvement in growth inhibition when compared to 5FU by itself. Animals given methotrexate and K-3 had improvements in cancer reversal with no increase in toxicity to the host tissue.

VITAMIN C. Tumor-bearing mice fed high doses of vitamin C (antioxidant) along with adriamycin (pro-oxidant) had a prolonged life and no reduction in the tumor killing capacity of adriamycin. Lung cancer patients who were provided antioxidant nutrients prior to, during, and after radiation and chemotherapy had enhanced tumor destruction and significantly longer life span. Tumor-bearing mice fed high doses of vitamin C experienced an increased tolerance to radiation therapy without reduction in the tumor killing capacity of the radiation.

FISH OIL. EPA improves tumor kill in hyperthermia and chemotherapy by altering cancer cell membranes for increased vulnerability. EPA increases the ability of adriamycin to kill cultured leukemia cells. Tumors in EPA-fed animals are more responsive to Mitomycin C and doxorubicin (chemotherapy drugs). EPA and GLA were selectively toxic to human tumor cell lines while also enhancing the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy.

VITAMIN A & BETACAROTENE. There is a synergistic benefit of using vitamin A with carotenoids in patients who are being treated with chemo, radiation and surgery for common malignancies. Beta-carotene and vitamin A together provided a significant improvement in outcome in animals treated with radiation for induced cancers.

VITAMIN E. Vitamin E protects the body against the potentially damaging effects of iron and fish oil. Vitamin E deficiency, which is common in cancer patients, will accentuate the cardiotoxic effects of adriamycin. The worse the vitamin E deficiency in animals, the greater the heart damage from adriamycin. Patients undergoing chemo, radiation and bone marrow transplant for cancer treatment had markedly depressed levels of serum antioxidants, including vitamin E. Vitamin E protects animals against a potent carcinogen, DMBA. Vitamin E supplements prevented the glucose-raising effects of a chemo drug, doxorubicin while improving the tumor kill rate of doxorubicin. Vitamin E modifies the carcinogenic effect of daunomycin (chemo drug) in animals.

NIACIN. Niacin supplements in animals were able to reduce the cardiotoxicity of adriamycin while not interfering with its tumor killing capacity. Niacin combined with aspirin in 106 bladder cancer patients receiving surgery and radiation therapy provided for a substantial improvement in 5 year survival (72% vs. 27%) over the control group. Niacin seems to make radiation therapy more effective at killing hypoxic cancer cells. Loading radiation patients with 500 mg to 6000 mg of niacin has been shown to be safe and one of the most effective agents known to eliminate acute hypoxia in solid malignancies.

SELENIUM. Selenium-deficient animals have more heart damage from the chemo drug, adriamycin. Supplements of selenium and vitamin E in humans did not reduce the efficacy of the chemo drugs against ovarian and cervical cancer. Animals with implanted tumors who were then treated with selenium and cis-platin (chemo drug) had reduced toxicity to the drug with no change in anti-cancer activity. Selenium supplements helped repair DNA damage from a carcinogen in animals. Selenium was selectively toxic to human leukemia cells in culture.

CARNITINE. Carnitine may help the cancer patient by protecting the heart against the damaging effects of adriamycin.

QUERCETIN. Quercetin reduces the toxicity and carcinogenic capacity of substances in the body YET at the same time may enhance the tumor killing capacity of cisplatin. Quercetin significantly increased the tumor kill rate of hyperthermia (heat therapy) in cultured cancer cells.

GINSENG. Panax ginseng was able to enhance the uptake of mitomycin (an antibiotic and anti-cancer drug) into the cancer cells for increased tumor kill.

ÞIn both human and animal studies, nutrients improve the host tolerance to cytotoxic medical therapies while allowing for unobstructed death of tumor cells. Nutrition therapy makes medical therapy more of a selective toxin on the tumor tissue.

3) Bolster immune functions. When the doctor says: "We think we got it all." what he or she is really saying is: "We have destroyed all DETECTABLE cancer cells, and now it is up to your immune system to find and destroy the cancer cells that inevitably remain in your body." A billion cancer cells is about the size of the page number at the top of this page. We must rely on the capabilities of the 20 trillion cells that compose an intact immune system to destroy the undetectable cancer cells that remain after medical therapy. There is an abundance of data linking nutrient intake to the quality and quantity of immune factors that fight cancer.

4) Selectively starve the tumor. Tumors are primarily obligate glucose metabolizers, meaning "sugar feeders". Americans not only consume about 20% of their calories from refined sucrose, but often manifest poor glucose tolerance curves, due to stress, obesity, low chromium and fiber intake, and sedentary lifestyles. In an animal study, there was a dose-dependent response: the more sugar from the diet, the quicker the breast cancer's killed the animals.

5) Anti-proliferative factors. Certain nutrients, like selenium, vitamin K, vitamin E succinate, and the fatty acid EPA, appear to have the ability to slow down the unregulated growth of cancer. Various nutrition factors, including vitamin A, D, folacin, bioflavonoids, and soybeans, have been shown to alter the genetic expression of tumors.


Finnish oncologists used high doses of nutrients along with chemo and radiation for lung cancer patients. Normally, lung cancer is a "poor prognostic" malignancy with a 1% expected survival at 30 months under normal treatment.. In this study, however, 8 of 18 patients (44%) were still alive 6 years after therapy.

Oncologists at West Virginia Medical School randomized 65 patients with transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder into either the "one-per-day" vitamin supplement providing the RDA, or into a group which received the RDA supplement plus 40,000 iu of vitamin A, 100 mg of B-6, 2000 mg of vitamin C, 400 iu of vitamin E, and 90 mg of zinc. At 10 months, tumor recurrence was 80% in the control group (RDA supplement) and 40% in the experimental "megavitamin" group. Five year projected tumor recurrence was 91% for controls and 41% for "megavitamin" patients. Essentially, high dose nutrients cut tumor recurrence in half.

In a non-randomized clinical trial, Drs. Hoffer and Pauling instructed patients to follow a reasonable cancer diet (unprocessed food low in fat, dairy, and sugar), coupled with therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals. All 129 patients in this study received concomitant oncology care. The control group of 31 patients who did not receive nutrition support lived an average of less than 6 months. The group of 98 cancer patients who did receive the diet and supplement program were categorized into 3 groups:

Poor responders (n=19) or 20% of treated group. Average lifespan of 10 months, or a 75% improvement over the control group.

Good responders (n=47), who had various cancers, including leukemia, lung, liver, and pancreas; had an average lifespan of 72 months (6 years).

Good female responders (n=32), with involvement of reproductive areas (breast, cervix, ovary, uterus); had an average lifespan of over 10 years. Many were still alive at the end of the study.

In examining the diet and lifespan of 675 lung cancer patients over the course of 6 years, researchers found that the more vegetables consumed, the longer the lung cancer patient lived. Of the 200 cancer patients studied who experienced "spontaneous regression", 87% made a major change in diet, mostly vegetarian in nature, 55% used some form of detoxification and 65% used nutritional supplements.

Researchers at Tulane University compared survival in patients who used the macrobiotic diet versus patients who continued with their standard Western lifestyle. Of 1467 pancreatic patients who made no changes in diet, 146 (10%) were alive after one year, while 12 of the 23 matched pancreatic patients (52%) consuming macrobiotic foods were still alive after one year.


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Patrick Quillin, PhD, RD, CNS 
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