21ST-CENTURY MEDICINE MAN

Keith Block, M.D., is at the forefront of complementary cancer treatment

When you first meet Keith Block, M.D., you'd never guess that this handsome, fit and healthy-looking oncologist was once plagued with chronic migraines and bleeding ulcers. Yet it was his very own personal maladies that inspired the young doctor to seek out alternative healing methods when conventional therapies failed him.

As part of his treatments, Block learned about meditation, acupuncture and other holistic measures and adopted a plant-based diet. Almost immediately his migraines and ulcers disappeared, and he felt healthier than he ever had in the past. His experience taught him an invaluable lesson not only as a patient, but as a doctor, too. "When I was sick, no one considered me and how I felt," he recalls. "No one looked at what was going on in my life; instead, my illness was the focus. This made me realize that the biology of a disease is not all that matters. People's psychosocial and emotional states, plus their nutrition, fitness and other lifestyle factors, are also fundamental to getting well."

This revelation was a turning point for the then 20-something-year-old doctor, who went on to establish the Block Medical Center in Evanston, Ill., with his wife, Penny. "I elected to focus my career on cancer because I felt that if I could treat one of the most complicated disorders--the one that needs the most individualized fine-tuning--it would reveal answers to other diseases as well."

Today Block is a leading pioneer in integrative cancer treatment. He's gone way beyond his conventional training to pursue work in nutritional oncology and has studied acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, massage and such mind/body therapies as tai chi, qigong, yoga meditation and aerobic exercise. "I believe in tailoring an optimal health regimen to the individual. To provide the best chances for a successful outcome, it's necessary to combine the best of conventional care with carefully selected and patient-specific alternative therapies."

For more than two decades, Block has treated thousands and thousands of cancer patients (many suffering from breast cancer) with astounding results. Some have come to him after they have been given up on by other physicians, and a good percentage are able to either overcome their illnesses completely or at least enjoy a better quality of life. "The focus of our approach is to help patients transform traumatizing diagnoses and concerning prognoses into more easily tolerated therapies to achieve better outcomes," he explains.

The foundation of Block's practice is the tremendous amount of research and clinical evidence indicating that a low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet can slow, or reverse, tumor growth and bolster the body's natural resistance to disease. "Our nutrition plan calls for specific foods and nutraceuticals [natural supplements] that are known cancer inhibitors," he says. This approach, known as nutritional oncology, improves his patients' resistance to disease and quality of life and increases their longevity. He firmly believes in the therapeutic value of exercise and meditation as well as supplementing with nutrients and botanicals.

Block's approach to fighting cancer isn't all body-oriented, however. "You know the phrase 'We are what we eat?' It's true. But we are also what we think and what we believe," he stresses. "In spite of continuing research questions, I feel that a patient's entire psychological reality--her values, beliefs, attitude, spirit and emotions--can contribute significantly to how well, or if, she recovers."

In most cases, Block feels that cancer treatment should begin with the least invasive, least damaging therapies, progressing into more aggressive measures only when absolutely needed and only if that's what the patient wants. To give them the confidence to determine their own path, Block doesn't just present options to his patients, he educates them about their choices. This way, they become involved in their own care and develop a sense of power and responsibility, a strategy he says is invaluable in helping them tap into their inner healing resources.

Of course there are times, Block acknowledges, when radiation, chemotherapy and surgery play vital roles in integrative medicine. In these cases, he does everything possible to minimize the adverse side effects while attempting to boost the treatments' efficacy. Whereas some conventional therapies can injure patients in the process of curing the disease, Block's approach concentrates on building up their overall health while they're fighting the cancer.

Looking ahead, Block is very positive, foreseeing the full acceptance and integration of complementary alternative medicine over the next five to 10 years. "Although there will be numerous problems, starts and stops and consequences," he says, "over the long haul this paradigm shift in health care will benefit us all."

PHOTO (COLOR): Keith Block, M.D. (right)

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By Amy Rapaport

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