I have never been a proponent of saying that PEMFs alone should be used to treat cancer. The most humbling thing I can say about the treatment of cancer is that there are no perfect solutions. I would also say there is no such thing as a cure.
No such thing as a cure
Cancer is a chronic illness. Even though you have been declared “cured” by a doctor, usually defined as surviving beyond 5 years after diagnosis, there is almost lifelong vigilance and surveillance to be sure the cancer has not come back. Yes, you can effectively be in a state of long-term remission after an original diagnosis. Unfortunately, very many people do not live beyond 5 years or for that matter beyond 10 or even 15 years after their diagnosis. So, medicine today continues to search for answers in the war on cancer, to find a cure.
To me the real issue is not necessarily to find a cure, even though that is certainly a desirable goal, but rather to find ways of making our current therapies more effective to produce longer-lasting results with a better quality of life. So often, current medical therapies are brutal, making people very ill, with often poor results nonetheless. Yes, certainly, in many cases the therapies do produce long-lasting benefits, but this is often uncertain and unpredictable.
Enhancing existing therapies with PEMFs
How can we make the results of medical therapies more certain and more predictable? PEMF therapies may be one approach to enhancing the value of existing therapies. The research available to support the use of PEMFs in the setting of cancer is still far from being of great certainty. Of course, the same can be said of most existing medical therapies. So, the question is what is the harm? The harm comes largely from uncertainty. Conventional medical therapies still have a huge level of uncertainty as well, but they are sanctioned by society and the medical community. That makes them acceptable, even though they are very often ineffective. Because PEMFs are not as acceptable, and because the science is not compelling, to convince most doctors or most guideline and professional bodies, they are considered to be “unacceptable”. That being said, most doctors however are completely ignorant about what PEMFs do biologically and physically. And, unfortunately, they are not even willing to explore these approaches. Likewise, most doctors are not even willing to approach and consider nutritional aspects of managing cancer. As a result, the consumer and the person suffering from cancer, is largely left on his/her own.
Perhaps we can shed a little bit of light on this issue with the potential use of PEMFs with 2 recent studies that have been reported. One is in humans and one is in animals. Even conventional medical oncology sometimes resorts to relying on animal studies, in the absence of any available human studies. Since you can’t always conclude that the results from animal studies can be applied to humans, drawing conclusions from animal studies needs to be done with some caution. However, I’m of the belief that individuals are responsible for their own health and will ultimately make their own best personal decisions.
In the human study, done in China, magnetic fields were studied in the treatment of patients with advanced cancers of various kinds. Unfortunately, the entire article is a written in Chinese, so it is not available in complete form to us. In this study, 137 patients with advanced malignant tumors were exposed to what amounts to a sinusoidal magnetic field of approximately 7 Hz, at 4000 Gauss, for 2 hours a day for between 30 to 50 days. The clinical benefit was 60%. 28 patients had a complete response and 54 had a partial response. The median overall survival was 12 months. The 1-year, 2-year and 3-year survival rates were 47.0%, 11.8%, 3.4%, respectively. Complications were minimal. There were no treatment related deaths. Unfortunately, the survival rates in individuals with advanced cancers normally tend to be very poor. If life can be extended comfortably, this could be a very important benefit. So, the type of PEMF used in this study seems to have improved the quality of life of these individuals and probably in many cases prolonged survival. It is well known in the medical community that people with advanced cancers do very poorly. Medical therapies in these people are largely experimental and likewise have poor results.
While we don’t have commercially available PEMFs exactly the same as those used in this study, we do have available PEMF systems that are of a comparable intensity with a similar frequency. However, these devices are often very expensive and need to be used for extended periods of time, that is, 2 hours per day, on a daily basis, for extended periods of time, for months, if not the rest of the person’s life. It is not known if treatment extended beyond the 30 to 50 days used in this study would have produced even better results. Nonetheless, these results are very impressive, despite the limited length of time the treatment was used. Since often these treatments are applied in doctors’ offices, the treatment durations are probably too short. Even if available PEMFs are not exactly comparable to those used in this study, available devices have the potential to produce similar results. In the end, there is no harm, from what this study shows, in trying. In my clinical experience patients using PEMFs on an ongoing basis, in the home setting, long-term, with or without conventional therapies do better and are much more comfortable.
Ref: Han JQ, Liu Q, Sun CT, Yao J, Zhao B, Wang H. Efficacy and safety of low-frequency rotary magnetic fields in the treatment of patients with advanced malignant tumors. [Article in Chinese] Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi. 2013 Jun;35(6):468-71.
Another study looked at the use of pulsed electric fields in breast cancer in mice. Electric fields have both an electric and magnetic aspect to them, Very short pulse length pulsed electric fields, which didn’t create heating to destroy tissue were used. The frequency was 4 hertz. Two weeks after treatment, the growth of treated tumors was inhibited by 79%. MRI was used to assess the physical changes in the tumors. Various growth factors, including the development of new blood vessels were strongly suppressed. As a control, normal skin was treated the same way as the tumors and showed no permanent changes. So, tumors react differently to PEMFs, in a positive fashion, than normal tissue. The results suggest short pulse electromagnetic fields may be able to inhibit human breast cancer development and suppress tumor blood vessel growth, and may therefore serve as a novel therapy for breast cancer.
Ref: Wu S, Wang Y, Guo J, Chen Q, Zhang J, Fang J. Nanosecond pulsed electric fields as a novel drug free therapy for breast cancer: An in vivo study. Cancer Lett. 2013 Oct 4. S0304-3835(13)00701-5.
These 2 studies show us that PEMFs have significant potential in helping patients with cancer, advanced or otherwise. Obviously, a great deal more research needs to be done to discover the best signals and approaches. It remains to the individual to determine whether using PEMFs along with their conventional approaches is something they might want to consider. As a physician, I can’t tell you whether this is your best option. I feel comfortable, however, knowing what I know about PEMFs and their benefits, that PEMFs can be a very important addition to whatever approach to cancer treatment an individual may choose. At this point, suffice it to say, nobody has a perfect solution.