Margaret Olszowka was diagnosed with lung cancer on New Year’s Eve, 2002. The prognosis was very grim: her disease had progressive to Stage 4 and was inoperable. Doctors at a very well known university hospital told her there was nothing they could do for her. They didn’t already offer chemotherapy as an option; she was told she had months to live. However, instead of giving up, she decided she was going to fight the disease, and ultimately found her way to cancer specialist, Keith Block, MD, where she received chronotherapy as part of her treatment plan. Today, she is doing very well and enjoying her two children and six grandchildren. She wants the world to know about the role chronotherapy played in her survival in the hopes of helping other cancer patients.
What is chronotherapy?
Chronotherapy takes into account how our body’s natural rhythms’ impact our ability to course of action medications. Patterns like sleeping, menstrual cycles, already our physical response to the changing seasons, are different for everyone. In the old days we called these biorhythms. Today, doctors are finding that understanding a patient’s biorhythms, and coordinating the timing of their medical treatments to these biorhythms, can considerably affect the outcome of their treatments. This is called “chronotherapy.”
“Every drug has an optimal time when it is least toxic and most effective.” says Keith Block, MD, editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Integrative Cancer Therapies, and Clinical Professor, Department of Medical Education, at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago (UIC), and at the Department of Pharmacology. For cancer treatment, this is determined by several factors, including the biological uniqueness of the particular drug being given, the time when the specific kind of cancer cells divide the most, when the normal healthy cells of the patient generally divide the least, the patient’s circadian clock and individual rest-activity cycles, and already the time zone the person resides in.”
According to Dr. Michael Smolensky, co-author of the book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, “When cancer medications are given in a chronobiological manner, patients may be able to tolerate higher, more potent doses than would be possible otherwise.”
“This method of administering chemotherapy is revolutionary and has demonstrated in large randomized trials its possible to enhance survival,” states Dr. Block. “We have found that often patients receiving chronotherapy reduce what would have been recurring side effects of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. This is important because the debilitation caused by chemo can cause patients to reduce or already stop treatments that could otherwise help them win their battle with cancer.”
Chronotherapy is being widely researched around the world:
There are over 62,000 references in PubMed (the National Institute of Health’s archive of biomedical and life sciences journal articles) about chronobiology (how biology is affected by timing) and over 500 scientific articles specifically about chronotherapy. The National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and different Medicine (OCCAM) devoted an complete web cast for doctors on chronotherapy.
So why isn’t chronotherapy used more widely?
One of the main problems has been logistics – figuring out how to deliver chemotherapy in exactly timed doses. “Portable infusion pumps may keep up the answer,” explains Gerald Sokol, MD, an oncologist with the division of oncology in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.
Dr. Block has brought technology to the U.S. that administers chemotherapy via a pump designed to precisely time up to four channels of infusion simultaneously to the individual needs of a patient. Highly portable and small enough to fit in a fanny pack, patients are able to continue complete mobility, play sports, and enjoy a complete night’s sleep – while receiving their specifically timed cancer therapy.