Since many cancers are currently incurable, it would seem preferable to prevent cancer occurring if possible. Individuals changing aspects of their own lifestyles may significantly influence their risk of developing particular cancers. Chemical interventions to reduce cancer risk may be considered for the population as a whole, or for groups at high risk of a specific cancer. Some vitamins and derivatives and dietary micronutrients may inhibit the development of cancers, e.g. beta-carotene, isotretinoin, folic acid, ascorbic acid, alphatocopherol. Large-scale trials of these substances and derivatives are in progress. Isotretinoin appears to prevent second primary squamous cell tumours of the head and neck. The antioestrogen, tamoxifen, when used as an adjuvant therapy in women undergoing surgery for primary breast cancer, was shown to reduce the risk of cancer occurring in the contralateral breast. This oral agent with few unwanted effects is now being tested in women at high risk of developing breast cancer as a chemopreventive strategy. See also aspirin (p. 283).
CANCER'CURES': UNPROVEN REMEDIES
So long as conventional medicine cannot cure all patients with cancer some will be willing to try anything that they think might help.10
This is perfectly understandable and many patients use unproven methods, including medicines (see complementary medicine). Innumerable methods are and have been offered for cancer. A prominent remedy was laetrile, a preparation of apricot seeds (pits, pips), which contains amygdalin (a p-glucoside) which incorporates cyanide. It was claimed to relieve pain, prolong survival and even to induce complete remission of cancer. Benefit was reputed to result from release of cyanide in the body which
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