Book Review: Outside the Box Cancer Therapies

Comprehensive, accessible information laced with hope

By Eric Marsden, ND

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Book reviewed: Stengler M, Anderson P. Outside the Box Cancer Therapies: Alternative Therapies that Treat and Prevent Cancer. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House Publishing; 2018.

Outside the Box Cancer Therapies by Mark Stengler and Paul Anderson is a new publication by 2 recognized experts in the field of naturopathic oncology. The goal of this book is to provide comprehensive, evidence-based information about how to integrate nonconventional therapies into a cancer treatment plan. The book is directed to patients, caregivers, and their doctors as they navigate a cancer diagnosis, to support and enhance their healing journey. While acknowledging that a cancer diagnosis is daunting, and the statistics about cancer intimidating, they offer patients hope by presenting a compelling case for holistic approaches to cancer care. They describe emerging tools in natural medicine that support better outcomes, such as improved survival, better treatment tolerance, and superior quality of life. The authors succeed in crafting a resource that balances the provision of accessible information for the layperson while validating that information with preclinical and clinical research.

A key theme in Outside the Box Cancer Therapies is hope. At the outset, the authors lead with several cases from their own clinical practice that illustrate how integrative therapies can make an incredibly important positive impact on patients suffering with even the most desperate cancer diagnosis and clinical situation. The cases are followed by an overview of the various forces that can contribute to the development of cancer in an individual, including diet, lifestyle, environment, and psychosocial factors. Unlike many other books in the field of integrative cancer care, Outside the Box Cancer Therapies does a thorough job outlining the various conventional treatment options that are available and commonly used. Added to this review of conventional treatments are evidence-based examples of integrative therapies that can be used to either reduce common side effects or enhance therapeutic efficacy. These introductory chapters are able to contextualize the role that integrative cancer care can play in most cancer treatment programs.

Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is also its weakness: the presentation of large amounts of excellent, but complex information.

The bulk of the rest of the book details the integrative cancer therapies that have the greatest potential impact for patients. There is an excellent summary of nutritional effects on cancer, which looks at both general and cancer-specific dietary recommendations that have a role in disease prevention, along with reviews of dietary strategies that have evidence-based support for use in active cancer treatment or in its secondary prevention. Sections on supplementation, while not exhaustive, outline the most important oral therapeutics that have sound evidence to support their use in cancer patients. A comprehensive chapter on intravenous therapies examines both common integrative intravenous therapies along with emerging or controversial treatments. Special attention is paid to providing the reader with information about how integrative therapies can support recovery and long-term health after conventional treatments like chemotherapy/radiotherapy. Finally, there is a chapter on cancer-specific recommendations with a recipe-like format, listing the most appropriate treatments for specific diseases.

There are many books, websites, and videos on the topic of integrative or alternative cancer treatments. What sets this book apart from other works in this field is threefold. The first distinguishing feature is the overall breadth of the work. The sheer amount of pertinent information, covering a vast array of therapeutic and diagnostic approaches, is impressive. Furthermore, the information is delivered in a manner that is easily consumable for the layperson but still engaging for the trained healthcare professional. Outside the Box Cancer Therapies weaves both conventional and integrative approaches effectively and non-dogmatically. The excellent summary of conventional diagnostics and treatments can be a great reference for the patient who is working to understand what exactly is going on in their care. By incorporating integrative along with the conventional approaches to care, the reader gets a good sense of how their healing journey can best be augmented. Second, this book backs up its information with detailed clinical trial evidence supporting the facts, plus useful anecdotes from the authors’ clinical practice. The result is a text that is reliable in its presentation of the material without overstating or understating the potential benefits of the approaches described, and relatable to the reader who might see themselves in the various cases presented throughout. Finally, Outside the Box Cancer Therapies does not shy away from some of the more aggressive and/or controversial integrative treatments (eg, artemisinin, cannabis, poly-MVA, vitamin B17, and others). The controversial therapies are presented in a balanced manner that highlights what is known and what is not known about their potential benefits and risks. The end result is a book that effectively arms the reader with information they can use to make informed decisions about how to best implement integrative therapies in their care plan.

While it is definitely one of the best books on integrative cancer care for the public I have seen, Outside the Box Cancer Therapies may present challenges for some readers. Perhaps the greatest strength of this book is also its weakness: the presentation of large amounts of excellent, but complex information. At times, the vastness of the material can be overwhelming and perhaps confusing for some. By comprehensively reviewing the topic, the authors may leave readers asking, “Which diagnostics/treatments presented are most appropriate for me, and when?” The book provides lists of proposed therapies for many cancer diagnoses, but they are best implemented in consultation with a professional with expertise. Other readers may be uncomfortable with the inclusion of integrative therapies and diagnostics considered controversial, or at least “untested.” While I believe this leads to a fulsome discussion of therapy options with various levels of evidentiary support, some may prefer to see only treatments that are substantiated with randomized controlled trials. Ultimately, there is no text on this topic that will please everyone.

Conclusion

Stengler and Anderson have succeeded in providing a detailed book that arms patients and caregivers with quality information on the possibilities offered with integrative cancer therapies. Outside the Box Cancer Therapies is also an excellent tool for integrative cancer therapy healthcare professionals, to help them communicate the rationale behind many of the treatments they offer to patients. The book may also open their eyes to therapies they may not have considered. I believe this book belongs in the office library of every integrative cancer healthcare provider. Definitely a must-read.

About the Author

Eric Marsden, ND, is the director of the Marsden Centre and the 2-year, full-time naturopathic oncology residency program. His practice focus is in integrative oncology.