Understanding Maintenance Therapy
Maintenance therapy is the treatment of cancer with medication, typically following an initial round of treatment. Maintenance treatment may include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy.
Maintenance therapy is used for the following reasons: To avoid or slow the cancer’s return if the cancer is in complete remission after initial treatment. Being in “complete remission” means doctors cannot find cancer and you have no symptoms. Maintenance therapy can help keep the cancer from coming back.
Dr. Stegall’s comments: The idea of maintenance therapy is a sound one – let’s continue to provide treatments so that we do not lose progress. We know from science that we have many options for maintenance therapy, and I feel that it should be integrative in nature by combining elements of modern medicine with aspects of nutritional medicine. However, we must also consider the art of medicine, and by this I mean that we cannot provide intense treatments continuously. The body needs breaks from treatment, even if it is only for a week or two. By taking strategic breaks, we allow the body to heal and recuperate until we resume the treatment protocol. I have found this to work well.
Managing Cancer as a Chronic Illness
Cancer isn’t always a one-time event. Cancer can be closely watched and treated, but sometimes it never completely goes away. It can be a chronic (ongoing) illness, much like diabetes or heart disease. This is often the case with certain cancer types, such as ovarian cancer, chronic leukemias, and some lymphomas. Sometimes cancers that have spread or have come back in other parts of the body, like metastatic breast or prostate cancer, also become chronic cancers.
Dr. Stegall’s comments: Cancer as a chronic disease probably does not appeal to many patients, but in some circumstances, I feel that it is a wonderful approach. I see many stage IV cancer patients in my office. Many find me after doing the standard cancer treatments with unsatisfactory results, while others find me after shunning standard cancer treatments and attempting to treat it on their own. Naturally, everyone wants to be cancer free, but for many stage IV patients this is not a practical goal.
A more attainable goal in these situations is to make cancer a chronic disease the patient can live with. The idea behind this is that with appropriate therapy and monitoring, we can hopefully control the cancer so that it is not growing and spreading, while also not interfering with the patient’s quality of life. Approaching advanced cancer in this way is similar to how we view other chronic diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Radical Remissions: Cancer Patients Who Defy the Odds
Radical Remission or spontaneous remission, as it is often referred to, caught the attention of Kelly Turner, PhD, when she was an undergraduate at Harvard University in Boston. “I was surprised how little research was being done by the medical community on these patients who had healed from cancer,” she said in an interview. “Many of the patients had healed without undergoing Western medical treatment or, following its failure, they used other therapies to extend their survival.”
Dr. Stegall’s comments: I am fascinated by the idea of radical remissions, and I applaud Dr. Turner in researching this phenomenon. I find it interesting that the many cases she examined had several things in common: a radical change in nutrition, increased spirituality, decreased stress, improved outlook, and a strong support network. Each of these are hallmarks of my integrative approach to cancer treatment, as I feel they are necessary for healing.