Off-label, Overlooked or Novel Cancer Approaches (ONCAs): Overview

Key Points

  • Many proven and promising therapies exist that are neither standard treatment nor complementary approaches.
  • We call these approaches and therapies "ONCAs", short for off-label, overlooked or novel cancer approaches.
  • These ONCAs are approaches that are either outside the focus of mainstream research or are mainstream therapies that may not be mentioned or known by your oncologist.
  • Many of these ONCAs are not typically offered as options to cancer patients in the US and Canada.
  • Several examples are provided here; you can search our Therapy Summaries for more information.

Integrative cancer cancer care involves more than integrating the best of conventional and complementary therapies. It also involves consideration of ONCAs—therapies and other approaches developed by scientifically trained investigators operating both inside and outside mainstream cancer organizations. Defining characteristics of these approaches:

  1. Off-label (re-purposed) drugs not in standard use for cancer
  2. Neglected cancer therapies developed in mainstream science
  3. Cancer therapies with special promise in clinical trials
  4. Approaches developed by qualified researchers outside the US
  5. Selected diagnostic techniques in these categories

A therapy or approach may fit into more than one of these categories.

Selection of ONCAs for This Site

Mainstream cancer medicine is constantly developing new and innovative approaches.

BCCT has selected and curated therapies and approaches that fit these categories:

  1. Approaches that are outside the focus of mainstream research
  2. Mainstream therapies that may not be mentioned or known by your oncologist

Investigational therapies come in many different forms. Some are developed in mainstream, conventional settings, some in settings that are mainstream outside the US but not in the US, and some in settings outside the mainstream in all jurisdictions. Most are developed by qualified scientists and clinicians. We call these investigational therapies that are marginalized, overlooked or novel "ONCAs" because we know no existing acronym to describe them.

Examples of ONCAs

Low-dose checkpoint inhibitors in combination with hyperthermia and IL-2 immunotherapy

Ralf Kleef, MD, has an immunology and integrative oncology practice in Austria where he uses low-dose checkpoint inhibitors in combination with hyperthermia and IL-2 immunotherapy. Kleef also uses a wide range of other German/Austrian/Swiss complementary therapies as part of the mix in the many clinics that cater to both European and American cancer patients.

OncoPherese

M. Rigdon Lentz, MD, impeccably trained in US academic oncology, moved to Germany to pursue his research in a more favorable environment. His International Immunology Foundation has developed a technology he calls OncoPherese.

Read more

Low-dose naltrexone with alpha lipoic acid

Burt Berkson, MD, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is one of the pioneers of Low-dose naltrexone with alpha lipoic acid for cancer and many other conditions. LDN has been used by patients for many years for a wide range of conditions including cancer. Many websites attest to its popularity. Berkson has presented his work to the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) and published his case studies as well. He has reported a complete remission of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Many of the alumni in the Commonweal Cancer Help Program have used LDN.

Copper chelation

The role of copper in angiogenesis (creation of new blood vessels to supply tumors) and Copper chelation as a nutritional anti-angiogenic strategy has received attention in the research literature.

Read more

Mifepristone

Mifepristone is a drug used to end pregnancy. A number of researchers, notably Jerome H. Check, MD, at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in New Jersey, are publishing papers documenting its benefits for cancer treatment. The theory, in popular terms, is that the biological mechanisms that protect the fetus from the mother’s immune system may be analogous to the mechanisms by which cancer shields itself from immune attack. While vigorously opposed by right-to-life proponents, the Feminist Majority Foundation has taken up the cause of making the drug available.

Highlighted Video

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor, Donald Abrams, MD, explains how metformin can be used as a cancer therapy in a 2014 video.

BCCT advisor Brian Bouch, MD,  discusses natural immunotherapies including OM-85 (Coley's toxins), Zadaxin, interferon, and others.

Metformin

Metformin, a diabetes drug, is a good example of an investigational cancer therapy being researched in major cancer research centers that interests integrative oncologists.

Read more

Timing of therapies

Keith Block, MD, as one example, has been using chronotherapy devices that release chemotherapy at optimal times in the patient’s biological clock, a practice widely used in Europe.4 See Timing of therapies.

Other ONCAs

Hundreds of other examples exist. Mainstream cancer medicine is constantly developing new and innovative approaches. These are other ONCAs on this site, with more planned:

None of these approaches represent the standard complementary approaches to cancer—the 7 Healing Practices—or indeed the common strategies that go beyond core health promotion, such as contemplative practice, yoga and other psychophysiological disciplines, traditional Chinese medicine, expressive arts and so on. BCCT believes that interest shown by integrative oncologists in these therapies reflects the reality that earlier investigations of complementary therapies unquestionably helped some patients but left many patients in need of practices that were neither complementary nor standard care.

Medical practitioners may disagree about when an emerging innovative approach moves from being classified as marginalized to being mainstream. As this is written, none of the examples listed here are typically offered as options to cancer patients in the US and Canada.

On the Horizon

Research continues on the anticancer activity of non-oncology drugs. A 2020 report using the PRISM screen "recovered 49 non-oncology compounds with selective and predictive biomarker-associated anticancer activity."5

Written by Michael Lerner, PhD, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; last update September 25, 2020.

 

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