Tumor Microenvironment: What It Has to Do with You
Many of you have heard me use the term Tumor Microenvironment as part of the three-fold approach that integrative cancer medicine takes to help people with cancer. What does this mean?
Tumor microenvironment is the tissues and cells around where your cancer has grown. A central tenant of integrative oncology, and what distinguishes it from modern oncology, is that in integrative oncology we do our best to make your tissues as unfriendly to cancer cell growth as is possible.
How do we know how your tumor microenvironment is doing?
Primarily through blood tests. These include such tests as CRP, or C reactive protein, a marker of inflammation; fibrinogen, a marker of how much tendency your blood has to create clots inside the blood vessels in organs; Vitamin D levels; WBC, that helps see how well your immune system is functioning; LDH, that helps see how much lactic acid your body is accumulating; Hemoglobin A1c and fasting insulin, to evaluate your glucose metabolism, because sugar feeds cancer growth; hormone levels, like estrogen and testosterone, especially in hormonal cancers; and heavy metal levels like copper and iron, both of which can feed cancer growth. These tests are rarely if ever run by oncologists, unfortunately.
The results of these tests help to create a more optimal oral food and supplement program best suited to make your tumor microenvironment less friendly to cancer development and growth. As part of preventing cancer, you can ask your primary care doctor to run these tests on you, and address any abnormal test results with food and good supplements.
If you are going through chemotherapy, the results of these tests can help the practitioner to fashion an optimal program for you, in order to enhance the effectiveness of chemo, and to prevent side effects. If you are in remission after treatment from chemo, remember that after chemo there are always cancer stem cells remaining. By doing these lab tests and getting on a good program, you can help prevent these remaining stem cells from growing into more cancer.
Tumor microenvironment is the second leg of integrative oncology. The first leg is you as a person– energy, sleep, pain, bowels, emotions and stress, and the cancer itself. Many of these symptoms, which often impair your quality of life, can be helped with a well-considered oral supplement program, as well as doing mindfulness work and/or working with a good therapist. These symptoms and imbalances are often addressed with pharmaceuticals by oncologists or family doctors, when there are better and less toxic natural medicine approaches.
The third leg of the stool is the cancer itself. This is often the only area that oncologists address, too often with chemo, radiation, and surgery. No doubt about it: this third leg is an important part of the equation to get better. This leg may also include what are called Targeted Therapies, or Immunotherapies. If you decide to do these oncology therapies, take some time to address the other two legs of the integrative oncology stool. It is best to do testing on your tumor biopsy to learn more about your particular tumor and to what it may be vulnerable. Oncologists can often order these tests, though they may not think they matter. They do matter, so insist on it. Be your own advocate.
In conclusion, tumor microenvironment is very important for all of us, and something that modern oncology must address in order to be effective long term.