Functional Medicine For Cancer Patients

Table of Contents

What is cancer care?


Are you the one who is facing the most difficult parts of your life living with cancer? Fighting cancer can be a challenge as many of the cancer patients recognize just the physical ramifications of the cancer treatment, but these treatments often exist with the most debilitating side effects. Cancer treatments are associated with side effects like pain, fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and many others that affect the quality of life of a patient. Relieving these side effects can make the quality of life of patients easier and more reviving.

There are various integrative medicine options for cancer treatment that may help you cope with signs and symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments. The functional medicine approach for cancer treatment may not play a direct role in curing cancer but may provide relief from signs and symptoms that arise due to cancer such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, depressive symptoms,  and stress. Lessening these may help in improving the overall quality of life.


How does Functional Medicine view Cancer Care?


Cancer results in our body where the immune system cannot fight the tumors effectively.  Functional medicine empowers practitioners and patients to get the maximum expression of health by working collaboratively to address the root causes of illness. It’s an emerging, personalized model of diagnosis and treatment which better addresses the need to prevent and manage chronic disease. In a word, it’s the medication of WHY, not WHAT.

Rather than dividing everything into labels and ailments, emerging science points to another way of thinking about ailments. As opposed to split the body into organs, Functional Medicine approaches disorder as a systemic problem, and we must care for the system, not the symptom; the cause, not the disease. This completely redefines the entire notion of disease. The landscape of illness is changing.

How we label cancer is no longer synced up with what we know about the sources of cancer or the fact that two people who have cancer with the identical name–such as breast cancer–may have two entirely different ailments that require different treatments. Just because you know the title of your disease does not mean you know what is wrong with you or what to do about it.

Numerous factors can contribute to cancer. Studies reveal diet, exercise, ideas, feelings, and environmental toxins all affect the initiation, development, and development of cancer. Functional Medicine doctors attempt to identify underlying issues that are known to lead to cancer. So with cancer, a Functional Medicine practitioner would discover integrative therapies as well as radiation and other traditional approaches. Cancer results due to an imbalance in the system. So many folks are walking around with tumors and do not know it. We can do something to keep them from growing.

If a nutrient-poor diet full of sugar, lack of exercise, chronic stress, persistent pollutants, and heavy metals may lead to cancer, is it that a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, physical activity, changing ideas and reactions to stress, and detoxification might help?

We can improve immune surveillance and function through lifestyle and dietary changes, in addition to nutrient and phytonutrient remedies. We can ease our own body’s own detoxification system to foster the elimination of carcinogenic chemicals. We can enhance hormone metabolism and reduce the carcinogenic effects of too much insulin from our elevated sugar and refined carbohydrate diet.

We can also change how our genes are expressed by changing the inputs that control that such as diet, nutrients, phytonutrients, toxins, stress, and other resources of inflammation. And we can concentrate on less divisive and more generative thoughts that, in turn, produce more uplifting emotions.

See: Integrative vs Functional Medicine

How can Functional Medicine help Cancer patients?


The functional medicine approach for cancer care has shown promising effects in helping people cope with cancer and its side effects.  There are various supplements for cancer care are available and some of these supplements in and of themselves are not harmful, but when taken by people with certain cancers, or those undergoing certain treatments, they can be found to be dangerous as well. Additionally, it does not help that no two cancer cases are the same. Two Patients who have the exact same cancer and go through precisely the same treatment may respond differently.  FM practitioners work with patients to address the underlying root causes, identifying the conditions where disorders thrive and enabling us to learn how to start altering those conditions, and improving the patient’s quality of life.

Nowadays, patients seldom die from their primary cancer. The majority of cancer deaths are from the secondary spread, which is a metastatic disease (when cancer spreads into another body part from where it began ). Consequently, the avoidance of metastatic disease is an integral element in survival.

Fortunately, testing and treatment for cancer are somewhat more advanced now. Additionally, dietary awareness is also progressing. Practitioners are now able to give patients accurate information and advice about lifestyle options for cancer management, such as weight, diet, and lifestyle improvement ⁠– all if handled well, can improve survival and quality of life.

1. Maintain Physical fitness

Maintaining physical fitness in the most debilitating condition like cancer may seem very difficult. But according to numerous research, it has been suggested that exercise may be an effective intervention for enhancing the quality of life (QOL) in patients suffering from cancer and side effects caused due to cancer treatment. Exercise in the form of yoga, meditation, relaxation, and deep breathing techniques  has proved to be safe, feasible and effective in reducing fatigue,cancer-related cognitive impairment,  arthralgia, chemotherapy side effects like peripheral neuropathy, lymphedema, recurrence, insomnia, and mortality,

2. Focus on diet and health supplements

Diet can be an important factor in deciding the functioning of the human body. Ultimately it’s the food that we consume that drives our body. Following a good and healthy diet can be an effective way to control cancer. Foods rich in the high-fiber diet like salads, seeds, nuts, fresh fruits can help make you feel better. minimize taking sugary, processed, insulin-raising foods and food sensitivities like gluten, and dairy products which are triggering factors for immunologic reactions.some of the health supplements are mentioned below that when taken can help fight cancer and cancer side effects. 

Antioxidants – Antioxidants like beta-carotene have well-defined potential anticancer effects,. Antioxidants are known to reduce oxidative damage that is caused due to Chemotherapy agents by the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). It also reduces the proliferation and angiogenesis of cancer cells and increases apoptosis, therefore, minimizing the initiation, progression, and metastases of cancer.

 Vitamins and minerals-  

Vitamins and minerals are essential components of the human body that regulate various cyclic pathways in order to maintain the healthy functioning of the body. Any deficiency in these nutrients for a long period can cause alteration of the pathways leading to various diseases like cancer.  

Vitamin D- Chemotherapy agents can cause side effects like fatigue, bone loss and alter body composition leading to decreased quality of life for cancer patients. In such cases, vitamin D supplements can improve muscle and bone strength and enhance the overall survival rates by reducing cancer mortality in such patients

Vitamin- C– It is an important component needed for growth and repair of tissues, blood vessels, and help heal wounds and scars. It has been found that the levels of vitamin C in the blood of the cancer patients were significantly lower when compared to healthy persons. Vitamin C supplements can help boost the cytotoxicity of tumor cells, antioxidant action, and immune system. It has also been found that cancer patients who received larger amounts of Vitamin C reported improved physical and cognitive function, appetite, less fatigue, and nausea/vomiting.

Vitamin E– Vitamin E is known to cause reduce the risk of chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity and several radiation-induced toxicities. It is a potent antioxidant that prevents the production of reactive oxygen species that results during oxidative stress and cell damage. It is also known to improve the immune/endothelial cell function.

Vitamin B6 – This vitamin plays an important role in the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters. Multiple studies evaluated the role of vitamin B6 as an antitumor or anti-toxicity agent that can help cancer patients overcome various side effects like fatigue, and weakness.

Selenium– selenium an essential micronutrient that is involved in various cellular pathways like DNA synthesis, oxidative stress reduction also possesses a potential chemo-preventative agent against various types of cancers, particularly of the prostate.

Zinc– Zinc is an essential mineral important for growth and development, immune function, protein synthesis, DNA synthesis, cell division, and wound healing has also been evaluated as a chemopreventive agent for radiotherapy-induced side effects among patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).

Herbal supplements

Herbal supplements/ natural products also possess cancer-preventive properties. These supplements are an ideal preventive agent that is safe to use, highly efficacious on multiple sites, low cost, well-tolerated easily available and above all, it’s generally accepted. Some of the herbal supplements include garlic, saw palmetto, ginseng, St. John’s wort, coenzyme Q10, green tea extract, glucosamine, EPA (fish oil), peppermint, and ginger are also popular herbal supplements that are known to be effective in cancer treatment.

Melatonin– Melatonin is not only a hormone that regulates circadian rhythms and promotes sleep cycles, but it is also a cell protector that is involved in antioxidative processes, immunomodulation,  and hematopoiesis. It also has oncostatic properties and is known to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation like insomnia, anxiety, stress, and fatigue.

Reduce toxic exposure.  Exposure to toxic industrial chemicals and gases can cause genetic mutations and abnormal cell growth in the body leading to the progression of cancer. Even tobacco smoking, microbial and parasitic infections, as well as some adverse side-effects of medications can contribute to various types of cancer like lung cancer, urinary bladder cancer, blood cancer, etc.

Focus on Mental health – Cancer is the most frightful and life-threatening disease, which hampers not only the quality of life of patients but also triggers different powerful psychological reactions, such as anxiety and depression. It’s always essential to have a strong mind in such situations to fight such a life-threatening disease. Most of the patients find their own way to express their feelings and unload them through activities while others manage best by talking to their dear ones or by thinking by themselves.


Studies in Functional Medicine for cancer


1. Chemotherapy and Functional Medicine in a Patient with Metastatic Breast Cancer: A Case Report.[4]. 

An 80-year-old Caucasian female patient presented with a 1-month history of a tender right breast. She had a history of obesity, arthritis, chronic gastritis, hypothyroidism, and hypertension. She was already taking medications for her treatment which included quinapril hydrochloride, esomeprazole hydrochlorothiazide, and triamterene, and levothyroxine sodium. The patient was evaluated and enrolled in an integrated oncology program that used a functional medicine approach. She was advised to continue her treatment and follow certain dietary changes which included Dairy and Gluten-free diet, along with consuming adequate protein, Melatonin, digestive enzymes, probiotics, and medical food shake. She was also advised to take supplements like Vitamin D3, EPA: DHA, Wheat germ extract,  Oral vitamin C followed by daily 10 minutes exercise, a regulated sleep cycle and a part-time counselor was also allocated. She received 97 infusions of vitamin C for a period of over one year along with conventional chemotherapy and nutritional support. After which follow up was done for another 1 year where the patient reported the  no evidence of recurrence and the patient survived her cancer with minimal side effects 

See: IBS Treatment With Functional Medicine



Functional medicine  is a holistic cancer treatment approach that doesn’t claim to cure cancer completely, but can definitely enhance the quality of life in patients suffering from it and help them cope with the adverse effects of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or surgery. The science of cancer genetics is changing constantly as we learn more. Functional medicine can help accelerate the healing process of the cells by working on multiple biochemical pathways that occur in the body and nourishing the tissues and cells by providing energy. Even though functional medicine is found to efficacious in various cancer treatment program, still a large database is needed to prove its beneficial effects in controlling cancer progression.



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