Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Feeding the Beast

If I dropped dead tomorrow, my cancer would be cured. Sounds kind of a stupid thing to say, but let's consider it a bit.

Once my heart stops beating, the CLL cells are going to soon be feeling the pinch. Nutrients are going to stop coming along, the blood flow bringing oxygen and taking away carbon dioxide simply won't be there. The protective vitamins such as vitamin C the cancer cells use to fend off death are going to be used up, and no longer serving a purpose. The CLL cells begin to die.

Obviously, this is a drastic (but 100% effective) CLL cure. Can we use this impractical information to our advantage? I think so.

We can perhaps slow the growth of the CLL clone by denying them the stuff of life. With our limited knowledge (we don't know, for example, what drives the CLL cells to merrily proliferate until it kills us, and it), we can't cure CLL by 'gentle means', but perhaps we can slow its growth.

And since CLL is an indolent (slow growing) cancer, with a potential lifespan of more than a few years, slowing the growth may mean months or even years more of good quality of life. This means, perhaps, more of us will be around when truly effective treatments are finally available.

I'm going to discuss one of those vital constituents as I see them, that the CLL cells require to madly and indiscriminately split and split and split. That's cholesterol.

Several papers have been published that point out that the standard cholesterol tests are not a valid indication of the cardiovascular health of the CLL patient (http://tinyurl.com/dha4hc). It seems that both high-density lipoprotein, HDL (the 'good' cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, the 'bad' cholesterol) is decreased in the CLL patient as the disease progresses.

Consider this paper in PubMed: http://tinyurl.com/dmegog. It asserts that cholesterol levels are reduced in progressive blood cancers including CLL, and that cholesterol levels rise when there is a response to chemotherpeutic intervention.

It's tempting, then, to conclude that the rapidly proliferating CLL cells 'sop up' large amounts of cholesterol to support their indiscriminate breeding. It may follow, then, that limiting the amount of cholesterol available for these cells to grow might slow the proliferation down.

I'm not aware of any studies that have tested this idea in CLL, but the idea has been floating around for some time. It's been known for years that high cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of cancers, but as far as lowering the levels as a means of slowing cancer's growth, much less is known.

There is one interesting paper, though, that concludes that the use of one type of statin drug (which is designed to reduce cholesterol levels), simvastatin, seemed to cause a slowing of the growth of the clone (http://tinyurl.com/cbzaac). Ironically, it was noted in the paper that some 40% of this very small sample of patients, went on to require treatment the following year. It is unclear from the abstract whether these four patients were the same ones who had noticable effects on their CLL clones. The apparent conclusion these researchers reached was that the use of statins may actually increase the need for treatment. The very small sample size makes reaching that conclusion difficult.

It seems reasonable to consider moderating the amount of cholesterol coming through the diet. The body is perfectly capable of manufacturing enough of the substance to meet the needs of the brain and body without necessarily consuming it.

This means going on a low cholesterol diet, exactly the same as one would adopt if one was concerned about heart disease. Low saturated fats, avoiding all sources of cholesterol in the diet, lean proteins, use of good fats in lieu of 'bad' fats, and so on. There are plenty of these diets and advice elsewhere on the web.

Another way of lowering cholesterol is to eat a higher-fiber diet. This includes both soluble and insoluble fiber. By increasing the bulk of the stool, the amount of bile acids excreated is increased. And since we know that these substances contain cholesterol, this effort can decrease cholesterol further.

We can't go too far, because a certain amount of cholesterol is necessary in the body, so I'd talk it over with your doc, and track your over-all cholesterol level.

Maybe it would have a slight, but real, effect.

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