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Integrative Cancer Care at The Block Center

July 2009

By Christie C. Yerby, ND

Targeting the Disease and Its Microenvironment

Targeting the Disease and Its Microenvironment

The second part of the program targets the disease itself by blocking angiogenesis (the growth of blood vessels that feed tumors), slowing cancer growth, facilitating apoptosis (programmed cancer cell death), and preventing tumor metastasis (cancer spread) throughout the body. Some of these biomarkers include a unique set of biochemical tests that include inflammatory, coagulation, and oxidative labs, and others that zero in on dysglycemia and stress maladaption. Dr. Block uses specific phytochemicals and nutrients to address this aspect of cancer treatment. “Plant medicines have multiple potential uses—they are pleiotrophs—and produce many effects that enable them to hit more than one target at a time,” he explains.

Based on extensive research, Dr. Block and his associates have pioneered what they call multifocal angiostatic therapy. By combining selected nutritional agents to inhibit angiogenesis, it may be possible to cut off the vascular supply needed to fuel tumor growth. Examples of compounds that Block and his team are evaluating include fish oil, EGCG from green tea, selenium, glycine, silymarin, DIM (diindolylmethane), soy, genistein (a soy-derived phytoestrogen), and quercetin (a bioflavonoid derived from fruits and vegetables). His focus includes using multi-targeted, multi-ingredient formulations to help support various needs cancer patients face and increasing bioavailability through nanoparticle supplementation.

Supplements That Complement Cancer Chemotherapy

Another important component of cancer management is slowing growth and blocking metastasis, the process by which cancer spreads from where it first arose as a primary tumor to secondary locations in the body. According to Dr. Block, a number of phytonutrients and botanical agents may accomplish this.16-18 For example, in animal studies, modified citrus pectin fights cancer by inhibiting primary tumor growth and suppressing cancer metastasis.16,17 Modified citrus pectin may hold promise for men whose prostate cancer has failed to respond fully to conventional treatments. Until recently, doctors routinely measured levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a marker of prostate cancer or disease. Rising levels of PSA have been used to measure disease progression. Administering modified citrus pectin to these men increases their PSA doubling time, indicating a slowing of disease progression.18

In addition to fighting angiogenesis, EGCG from green tea has anti-metastatic properties that may block the spread of tumors. Studies suggest that EGCG may work in part by blocking the activity of matrix metalloproteinase enzymes. When over-expressed, these enzymes promote tumor angiogenesis and metastasis.19,20 Other nutrients that may help prevent metastasis are silibinin,21 a flavonoid derived from milk thistle, and bromelain,22 an enzyme fraction derived from pineapple.

By decreasing levels of immune system white blood cells, conventional cancer treatment often leaves patients vulnerable to infections. Thus, boosting the body’s immune defenses and surveillance in order to prevent infection is an important component in this part of Dr. Block’s program.

Natural killer cells in the immune system are crucial to effective immune defense. Their essential functions include killing virus-infected cells of the body, and seeking and destroying cancer cells. The nutrients selenium, beta-carotene, and zinc increase circulating levels of natural killer cells and boost their cancer-killing activity.23-27 Dr. Block also recommends beta-glucans, probiotics, and glutamine for supporting immune health in cancer patients.

Supplements That Complement Cancer Chemotherapy

According to Dr. Block, selected nutritional supplements can improve chemotherapy treatment by enabling the patient to tolerate the full drug dose, decreasing or eliminating drug side effects, and reducing the need to interrupt treatment schedules. These variables greatly influence the efficacy of chemotherapy.

An ongoing focus of clinical research at the Block Center is determining whether it is possible to “re-challenge” patients by using the same treatment regimen in which their drugs previously failed them, in the hopes of getting an improved response. Positive results have been seen with the following nutrients and phytochemicals:

  • Milk thistle is mostly known for its protective effects against chemical toxicity, but it can also prevent the loss of glutathione, which is fairly common in cancer patients.
  • Ginger has detoxification potential as well as significant anti-inflammatory effects. It inhibits both the cyclooxygenase and lipoxygenase inflammatory pathways, and is very effective in reducing nausea and vomiting.
  • Lipoic acid may counter neuropathy, a risk for patients using the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (Taxol®).
  • Coenzyme Q10 is recommended for patients using the chemotherapy drugs doxorubicin (Adriamycin®, Doxil®) and trastuzumab (Herceptin®), to counteract the risk of cardiomyopathy.
  • Fu Zheng formulas (a Chinese adaptogen) may help patients improve vitality and overcome the fatigue and malaise associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Protein and amino acid support formulas have been helpful in reducing muscle loss, and in maintaining immune and biological functioning.

Other supplements that Dr. Block believes may enhance cancer treatment are:

Glutamine. When used in conjunction with chemotherapy, glutamine may reduce some side effects of treatment, including mouth sores, neuropathy, and diarrhea. In addition, glutamine may increase tumor sensitivity to chemotherapy.

Fish oil may play an important role in cancer treatment through its ability to help suppress inflammation. Additionally, “fish oil may help reduce the resistance that cancer cells often develop from continued exposure to chemotherapy,” says Dr. Block. “Some studies have shown that breast cancer patients who respond favorably to chemotherapy have higher levels of omega-3s than those who do not respond.”

Green tea

Green tea is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Green tea consumption has been associated with a reduced occurrence of early-stage breast cancer and a diminished risk of lymph node metastases. Green tea may also help tumors from establishing their own blood supply and prevent the progression of a pre-cancerous prostate gland condition. It appears that one would need to drink at least three to five cups a day to derive these benefits.

The Block Center tests patients to determine their unique nutritional, biological, and medical needs, and only after implementing a healthy diet does the Center initiate an individualized supplement program.

“The value of nutritional agents in clinical use is without question,” says Dr. Block. “The problem that can arise concerns the context in which they’re used. We have repeatedly seen people on poor diets respond less favorably to supplements. This suggests that a poor diet can sabotage a supplement program, and that many people have the mistaken belief that as long as they’re taking supplements, they can go ahead and continue to eat foods that would actually tend to promote degenerative disease. Scientific evidence strongly supports the benefit of a healthy diet as the foundation for a supplement program.”

Improving Quality of Life

The Block Center seeks to strengthen a cancer patient’s health before, during, and after chemotherapy. Implementing a comprehensive, individualized program that includes dietary and nutritional support, physical exercise, and mind-body stress-reduction techniques can help cancer patients minimize the complications of their disease and the side effects associated with conventional cancer treatment. Because patients often feel abandoned following the completion of chemotherapy, the Block program continues even after a patient returns home once active treatment is completed. One goal is to improve patients’ odds against the potential of disease recurrence. This continuity, extending beyond treatment, not only helps avoid the “disconnect from care” often seen in conventional cancer treatment, but also reduces the chances of ongoing complications from the disease.


Dr. Block’s comprehensive approach is informed by first-hand personal experience with the challenges of fighting cancer and its complications. As a teenager, he witnessed his grandmother’s struggle with breast cancer. As her body wasted, her doctors did nothing to halt her physical decline—not nutritionally, physically, or even medically. She eventually succumbed to the disease. Witnessing his grandmother’s experience engendered a deeper insight into the courage, strength, and unrelenting fight needed to endure and survive cancer.

“It is no longer a question of whether genuine integrative treatment helps patients, but rather why all cancer patients are not given a more meaningful approach to help combat their cancer,” he says. “Since every surgeon would rather have a patient who is more nutritionally, emotionally, and physically fit, why shouldn’t every physician treating cancer feel the same way?”

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