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Frequently Asked Questions About Spontaneous Remission
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What is Spontaneous Remission?
At first glance, the term “spontaneous remission” could be misinterpreted to mean that instantaneous healing is possible, however, this not how the term is used in medical literature. The term “spontaneous” as it relates to remission or regression is used when a patient shows a significantly measurable reduction in tumor size, or a reversal in the progression of a disease, and when this improvement cannot be attributed to Western allopathic medical treatment.
What is the difference between remission and regression?
People often use the terms “spontaneous regression” and “spontaneous remission” interchangeably. In the literature, spontaneous regression usually refers to the reduction of solid tumors, or neoplasms, whereas Spontaneous remission is used when describing the reversal of disease process that tends to be more systemic, such as leukemia or lymphomas. In a recent journal article (Kaiser et al, In Vivo 2000 Nov-Dec; 14(6): 773-788) the authors defined spontaneous regression (SR):
“SR of neoplasms occurs when the malignant tumor mass partially or completely disappears without any treatment or as a result of a therapy considered inadequate to influence systemic neoplastic disease. This definition makes it clear that the term SR applies to neoplasms in which the malignant disease is not necessarily cured, and to cases where the regression may not be complete or permanent.”
What are the conditions under which a case would be classified as spontaneous remission / regression?
- No Allopathic Treatment: The patient was medically diagnosed, via x-rays, biopsy or other medical tests, either refused any medical treatment or for whom medical treatment was deemed useless or unavailable and nonetheless recovered. An example of “pure remission” would be a patient diagnosed with bone cancer, who refused treatment and who is disease-free more than 10 years later.
- Inadequate Allopathic Treatment: Medical diagnosis is followed for a period of time by one or more kinds of treatment, treatment that is usually known to be insufficient to produce either a cure or a remission, and remission occurs.
- Equilibrium (or Delayed Progression): People experience either a partial regression of cancer or who live with their disease for long periods of time.
- Long Survival: People respond well to conventional medical treatment and survive far longer than the statistics for their type of cancer and treatment would predict.
- Complementary or “Complex” Remission: More complex cases may also exist where patients have been treated with a complex of traditional and complementary treatments. A recent survey of this group suggests that as many as 10% of them undergo “spontaneous” remissions, though the causes for these are so far unstudied.
- “Miracles”: Finally, there is the most unusual kind of all—those associated with spiritual cures, such as those carefully documented by the International Medical Commission at Lourdes in France. These cures are sudden, complete and without medical treatment. These cases appear to involve some of the same pathways as remission but consideration should be given to the possibility that the altered states of prayer, religious faith, and meditation may allow the process of self-repair greater freedom to operate.
What is the frequency of spontaneous remission?
The short answer to this question is “nobody knows.” Since there is no organized field of study and no epidemiological information, it is difficult to know how often spontaneous remission occurs. While it is often quoted that spontaneous remission occurs in approximately one in 60,000 to 100,000 cases, it is not clear from where this figure is derived. However, based on the number of incidences of spontaneous remission this author collected in a short period of time, it would appear that the number could easily be 10- to 20-fold greater than what is reported in the medical literature. Also, if we redefine spontaneous remission as outlined above, we might have the necessary tools to determine what kinds of remissions occur and in what types of cancer and in what people with what types of treatment.
In what types of cancer does spontaneous remission occur?
Spontaneous remission of cancer has been reported in almost every type of cancer. The largest number of cases are reported in a few types of cancer: neuroblastoma, renal cell carcinoma, melanoma, and leukemias/lymphomas comprise the largest number of cases reported.
What are the causes/mechanisms of spontaneous remission?
A number of mechanisms have been proposed for spontaneous remission of cancer. In the 1970s, a conference at the National Cancer Institute proposed that it was likely immunological factors that provided the primary mechanism of remission. However, although a number of immunotherapy treatments have shown some efficacy in those cancers with an immunological component, there is still no direct one to one correlation between immunological factors and cancer remission in the largest number of cancer types. Since that conference a number of different factors/mechanisms have been proposed for spontaneous remission.
Proposed biological and physiological factors/mechanisms:
- Immune mediation
- Hormonal factors
- Inhibition of tumor growth by growth factors and/or cytokines
- Differentiation of the tumor into a more “normal” type of tissue
- Elimination of carcinogens
- Tumor necrosis
- Programmed cell death (apoptosis)
- Genetic factors
That psychological and spiritual factors play a role in remission and survival is evident from the stories of people who have experienced unexplained recoveries from cancer and other diseases, but since the role of mind and the spirit is different for each person, it is difficult to generalize their influence.
Proposed psychological and spiritual factors/mechanisms:
- Placebo effect: The placebo effect has been one of the most constant indications that a wide variety of conditions can be positively affected by an as-yet unknown internal system in virtually every person. Among those conditions that have proven responsive to placebo treatment are angina pectoris, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, warts, asthma, ulcers, migraine headaches, allergies, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and psychiatric disorders.
- Hypnosis: Medical journals contain many stories of healing associated with hypnosis and other dissociative states. Hypnosis has been reported to speed the healing of burns, cause warts to disappear, cure asthma and decrease blood loss in surgical procedures
- Altered States: Altered states such as ritual trance, prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices such as yoga, zen and Buddhist training have also been reported to enhance healing
- Miraculous Healings: The reports of miraculous healings, such as those reported at Lourdes, show the extent to which faith and prayer can affect healing. These reports are very well documented and rigorously reviewed by the International Medical Commission of Lourdes. To date there have been 65 cures accepted as miraculous by the church.
- Group Support: Dr. David Spiegel’s landmark research study found that breast cancer patients who participated in a support group survived twice as long on the average than those who did not. It is interesting to note that the only kind of psychological technique they used in the support group was self-hypnosis for pain.
What are some of the characteristics associated with remission and survival that cancer survivors are reporting?
- A change from dependency to autonomy combined with activities, attitudes, and behaviors that promote increased autonomy, awareness of themselves, others, and their environment, love, joy, playfulness, satisfaction, laughter, and humor.
- Facing the crisis, the despair, the sadness, and the pain and discovering they have the power to find a new way of life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
- Taking control of their lives, (personal, professional, emotional, spiritual, and medical) and living each day fully combined with a willingness to evaluate their beliefs and attitudes and change old beliefs and attitudes that are no longer appropriate or adequate.
- Becoming comfortable with and expressing and accepting both their positive and negative emotions/feelings, their needs, wants, and desires (physical, emotional, spiritual); the ability to say “No” when it is necessary for their well being.
- Having at least one strong loving relationship—a strong connection to another person, an activity, an organization(s), changing the quality of their interpersonal relationships with spouses, friends, family, neighbors, doctors, nurses, etc. in a positive way, and motivation to help others.
- Working in partnership with their physicians and participating in decisions related to their health and well being.
- Finding meaning in the experience of cancer, finding reasons to live, accepting the diagnosis but not the prognosis, seeing the disease as a challenge, belief in a positive outcome, and having a renewed desire, will and commitment to life.
- Choosing activities and practices that promote increased awareness and reduce stress (imagery, stress reduction, yoga, etc.); showing renewed spiritual awareness (Soul) that often results in a spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, religious affiliation, connection to nature, etc.).