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Unusual dietary treatment may fight pancreatic cancer


In this story:

Tripled expected life span

Cancer Institute funds study


From Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa

(CNN) -- The body of evidence is slim, but an alternative treatment for pancreatic cancer has brought hope to a handful of patients and caught the attention of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NIH has agreed to fund a five-year clinical trial of the diet and detoxification procedure at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. The research stems from a pilot study by New York immunologist Nicholas Gonzales.

Pancreatic malignancy has one of the highest mortality rates for cancer. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Eighty percent of patients diagnosed die within a year.

Tripled expected life span

But in Gonzales's study -- reviewed and published earlier this year in the medical journal Nutrition and Cancer -- 11 patients who followed his regime lived nearly three times the usual survival rate. Gonzales said all the patients were in an advanced stage of the illness, and their conditions were inoperable.

"The survival rate's at this stage usually about four to five months," the doctor said in an interview. "But the survival rate for the test patients was 17 1/2 months." The pilot study was begun in 1993 and ended last December, he said.

The pilot treatment is based on the theory, which dates from the turn of the century and the University of Edinburgh, that pancreatic enzymes have cancer-killing properties. The therapy involves as many as 150 dietary supplements a day -- including pancreatic enzymes from pigs -- and coffee enemas for detoxification.

"I think the pancreatic enzymes do have a powerful anti-cancer effect," the doctor said. "We do use diet (fruits and vegetables), we do use coffee enemas, we do use vitamins and minerals. I don't think any of those things kill cancer cells. I do think pancreatic enzymes do."

NIH funds 5-year study

Gonzales's results have been solid enough to elicit a $1.4 million grant from the NIH for the five-year study at Columbia Presbyterian. The doctor said the research will involve about 90 to 100 patients suffering from cancer of the pancreas and, eventually, offer a much wider base of information about the effectiveness of the treatment.

Says Dr. John Chabot of Columbia Presbyterian, "Initially I was quite skeptical of the regimen. But as I looked at the data ... with the help of the National Cancer Institute, in his pilot study, it seemed quite compelling that something was there."

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National Institutes of Health
CPMCnet, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center
National Cancer Institute Homepage
MEDLINEplus: Pancreatic Cancer
Nutrition and Cancer: An International Journal
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