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Cancer, Part 1 – Causes of Cancer

Sometimes it seems the universe sends cases, people, or animals into my life for a lesson I need. I always say “our animals are special angels with their lessons for us”. Of late, cancer cases seem to be finding me. Not just in client cases, but in my own animals. Just like I always expect the dentist to have perfect teeth, you might assume that vets are immune to the devastating effects of cancer in their pets. Well, not so. As hard as I try to do the right things, I have had two dogs and a horse die of cancer in the past 5 years. I am listening here! I am listening to the lessons taught by those patients who have passed on, and those I am currently treating….What works, what does not, what seems to make them happier and what treatments they will accept, and those that are a struggle.

I am studying about cancer all the time and the more I know, the more I realize we don’t know. Facts I have personally observed in 30 years of practice follow. Meddling with a tumor can make it grow faster. ( known as “old wives tale”.)Removal of a tumor does not remove the disease. Surgical removal of a tumor can make the metastatic small tumors take off and grow faster. Some tumors in animals are caused by viruses. Cancer is a disease to live with and there are a multitude of ways to improve the outcome. The day of diagnosis is not by any means,  the day of onset, and, in fact , the patient has been living with cancer for months to years prior to histologic diagnosis.

My own opinions follow, and they are based on scientific study. Cancer is truly an aberration in immune function and genetics play a huge role. Just look at the various breeds of dogs and their predisposition to certain cancers! Purebred dogs have a limited gene pool and many generations in a short number of human years. Just think,  you can have 100 generations of dogs in the span of one human lifetime! Why do you think we study mice and rats? Their numbers of generations are way up there! So, defective or damaged DNA is perpetuated down the line. It is well accepted that carcinogens act by damage to DNA, thereby being the environmental factor.

There is much study on nutrigenomics, where nutrients can turn on or off genetic expression. Look it up! Very interesting emerging field in veterinary medicine.  I think that we will find that cancer’s origin goes back years during development of the animal and that the stage is already set once the tumors show up. Just my opinion here, but this is nothing new. We know that years of exposure to carcinogens will catch up sooner or later. Years of poor nutrition will catch up in many degenerative diseases in dogs and humans. (My theories on osteoporosis in cows and nutrition in dogs are food for another day’s story.)

Didn’t you always wonder how one person can live dangerously, nutritionally speaking, and another can be so careful and the one you think will get cancer does not, and the healthy one does? That’s genetics. Some people are just lucky in that department, or not.

In a family where there is breast cancer, why do some members get the disease and some do not when they may all have the genetic markers? That’s nutrigenomics. Something is turning on those cancer genes for expression. Just my opinion here, but if there are genes for cancer, then there must necessarily be genes which protect against cancer, those that direct our immune systems.  Damaging these genes too will cause our defenses to fail.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but I think we all deal with cancer in our lives more than we want to. Just let me say that the cancer cases in animals are alarming. Horses get cancer…well it’s not from smoking. Most horses in these parts live a pretty healthy lifestyle. Solar radiation is a factor in horses’ and cows’ cancers, viruses have been proven to cause cancer in cattle and be transmitted through body fluids and milk incidentally. Viruses do alter DNA or RNA by definition. Our immune systems are equipped to handle viruses on a daily basis but some part of the system fails with certain viruses, and maybe more than we currently know. Dogs in a city I used to live in were always walking thru our doors with lymphoma. Here a rural town was notably one of the most polluted in the state due to a chemical industry. Gotta think there’s some environmental factor here. Osteosarcoma is rampant in the unfortunate Rottweiler. I used to joke about “designer dogs” but now I think a genetic mixing is a grand idea! Still, don’t tell me yours is a purebred Cockerpoo! Go to the pound and get yourself a loving Heinz 57 with a good mix of genetics, please!

I’d love to hear your feedback on this subject. Next time, Part Two will discuss treatment of cancer.


December 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“So, Dr. Lewter, what’s all this about Holistic Veterinary Medicine??”

Well, let me share my path with you. How did I get to this place in my career? It all started with a Chinese roommate at VA Tech in my pre-vet days who worked at an acupuncture clinic. I thought that was very strange back in the 70’s, but I respected her intelligence, and I was curious. A seed had been planted.
Many years later after years of working in a dairy cattle practice as a veterinarian, I wondered if acupuncture could help some of these sad downer cow cases. I was so tired of seeing these cows suffer, and their owners lose good cows. I enrolled in the IVAS acupuncture training and went “back to school”. During this course, I kept having flashbacks of all the cases which had died or been euthanized which I now knew I could have helped. This knowledge fueled my desire for more information and I started a 3 year Chinese Herbal Medicine course. It seemed a natural complement to acupuncture and an integral part of Chinese medicine.
I began to offer some hope to cases which would be given up on in conventional medicine. Suddenly conventional medicine continuing education courses were of no interest to me and I sought out training in my new field, all the while continuing to practice in a mostly conventional way. (I use the term conventional to refer to standard of care veterinary medicine, and Traditional to refer to Traditional Chinese Medicine or TCM.)
In 1994, I attended the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association conference in Orlando Florida and this was a turning point. I found all my new knowledge was just a peek through the door of a much bigger world to discover. And, the icing on the cake was that these vets were real down-to-earth people. They willingly shared knowledge and supported each other in the quest for healing. They acknowledged a greater universal force than drugs and surgery in veterinary medicine. They celebrated lifelong learning, the fellowship of others who had found this path, and the duty we have to offer all options to our patients. I had “found my people”!
Years went by and I offered alternatives and choices to those who sought them. I was still a vet who did lots of surgery and conventional medicine but I added acupuncture and herbs to everyday practice.
I moved to VA and began a mobile rural practice serving my community as the only vet in my county. Needless to say, I felt a lot like the James Herriot of Craig County! I still attended holistic veterinary meetings and would come home full of new ideas and options. Still, I found most of my clients did not know I did anything different. Some only wanted the bare minimum of care, and others wanted to do everything possible. Many would describe the acupuncture as ”those B-12 injections”. The homeopathics were just small pills to them. In reality, it did not matter as long as the animal improved! I could not agree more!
In 2010, I decided to have a location dedicated exclusively to the practice of holistic medicine and Holistic Veterinary Consultants was born. I still do the James Herriot thing in my rural county because it is a real treasure. (That will have to be a story for another day!) Yet having an office with a physical location has helped to provide a quiet space for seeing clients and has enabled me to add Angela, my office assistant, to my team. At the new clinic I schedule long appointments to offer advice and treatments that are a compliment to conventional care. It’s not rocket science, as they say. It’s just another approach, such as pain management options, end of life choices, organic farming options, and urging clients to look at what they feed their animals. It’s never giving up on a patient, it’s selecting treatments that are optimal for the patient’s needs and the clients lifestyle.
I hope to never again hear that an animal was euthanized because the owner never knew there was any other option out there. I want to offer choices for those who seek wellness and quality of life. I want be an advocate for those who have no voice.
These days, information abounds but knowledge and experience are what I have to offer my clients. Fortunately I have colleagues who willingly consult on cases, because I am the first to admit that I have a long way to go before I know everything! My goal is to have several holistic veterinary specialists under one roof to offer specialized care. There are veterinary chiropractors, veterinary homeopaths and veterinary physical therapists. There are nutritionists, reiki masters, and oncologists; so many options to look at. It’s all about choices. We seek these sort of choices for ourselves so why not for our animals too?
Let me end by saying my greatest satisfaction comes from seeing a pet lead its person to a discovery in their own life that leads to better health and happiness. I’ve see it many times and I thank our animal angels for that purpose in their lives.

December 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment