Dr Keith Block

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)


By Amy Rapaport

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If you want to reduce your risk for getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other diseases, the message is clear - eat a nutrient-rich, low-fat, high fiber diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables. So why is this wisdom forgotten when a person is diagnosed with cancer, and the standard advice becomes: "Eat whatever you want, whatever you can tolerate," even when this may include a diet high in fat and refined sugars.

According to two of the country's leading authorities on cancer and nutrition, David Katz, MD and Keith Block, MD, the typical American high-fat, empty calorie diet can set the stage for an inflammatory response that actually fuels a cancer patient's disease, undermines treatment, and promotes malnutrition.

"Cancer generates the production of low-grade inflammatory molecules that breakdown lean muscle, and can disrupt immune functioning. The heavy consumption of fats, refined flours and sugars found in the traditional American diet can increase this inflammation, contributing to a lack of appetite, more debilitating weight loss, and actually promote the very disease the patient is trying to fight," explains Keith I. Block, MD, Medical/Scientific Director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Evanston, Illinois.

In fact, in many cases it's not cancer that kills patients. According to The National Cancer Institute, some 20% to 40% of cancer patients die from complications of malnutrition, and 80% of patients will develop some form of clinical malnutrition. And even relatively small degrees of under-nutrition can seriously undermine a cancer patient's health and are associated with a marked increased risk of hospital admissions and death.

"Cancer may kill, in part, by causing starvation and conventional therapies may actually exacerbate this aspect of the disease," says ABC News medical contributor and nationally renowned authority on nutrition, David Katz, MD. "While these treatments can effectively attack the cancer, they may kill the patient in the process of doing so." Katz, an Associate Professor of Public Health and director of the Yale prevention Research Centers adds: "There is thus a need to combine effective assaults on cancer, with effective nurturing, and nourishing, of the body. Optimizing nutrition during and following cancer therapy is unquestionably a vital element in overcoming the disease, and reclaiming good health."

So what kind of a diet can fight malnutrition and help a cancer patient combat their disease Drs. Block and Katz offer the following suggestions:

Include cancer and inflammation-fighting phytonutrients, found in abundance in many fruits and vegetables - berries, grapes, cherries, brussel sprouts, broccoli, collards, kale, carrots, spinach, garlic and onions.

Eat or supplement with Omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold water fish such as salmon, trout and tuna.

Choose complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, barley, quinoa, and other whole grains.

Eat healthy sources of proteins such as fish legumes, soy, and whey protein, and use "healthy" oils such as flaxseed, canola, walnut, and pumpkin seed.

Choose energy dense/nutrient dense foods such as avocado; nut butters; and soy.

Avoid "bad" dietary fats such as saturated fats found in milk, cheese, butter, red meat, pork, coconut, and poultry.

Eliminate unnatural fats, called trans fat, found abundantly in margarine, hydrogenated oils, as well as many baked goods and convenience foods.

Reduce or eliminate simple carbohydrates such as sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, concentrated sweeteners, sugary beverages, cookies, cakes, pastries, white bread, crackers and white-flour baked goods. These are high-glycemic foods that cause a sudden rise in blood sugar and ultimately increase inflammation.

The Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care and Optimal Health, located in Evanston, Illinois, was founded in 1980 by Penny and Keith Block, M.D. with a focus on treating the patient as a whole person, not simply treating the diagnosis. The Center's research-based treatment integrates an innovative approach to the best of conventional medicine with scientifically sound complementary therapies -- therapeutic nutrition, botanical and phytonutrient supplementation, prescriptive exercise, and systematic mind-body strategies, to enhance the recovery process. Block has pioneered this "middle ground" approach to cancer care and optimal health - designing a total treatment plan that is tailored to the precise needs of each patient, using a unique set of clinical and laboratory assessments. The Block Center is breaking new ground with the creation and development of Cancer Rehab as an innovative treatment modality, and is currently the only private North American medical center using chronomodulated chemotherapy. Dr .Block is a member of the National Cancer Institute's PDQ Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Editorial Board in Washington, D.C., and Director of Integrative Medical Education at the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The Block Center is a full treatment clinic, has served as a CCOP site through the National Cancer Institute, and is currently engaged in clinical cancer research with the University of Illinois and other university facilities in the United States and Israel (http://www.blockmd.com).

David L. Katz, MD, is a nationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight control, and the prevention of chronic disease. His ninth and most recent book, The Flavor Point Diet (Rodale: January, 2006) introduces a groundbreaking strategy for weight control based on the thoughtful distribution of flavors. He is an Associate Professor of Public Health and directs the Yale Prevention Research Center. He is Medical Contributor for ABC News, with weekly appearances on Good Morning America, and occasional appearances on 20/20, World News Tonight, and other programming. In 2005, Dr. Katz became a syndicated health/nutrition columnist for The New York Times.