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King Charles and alternative medicine approaches to cancer care

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LONDON — We don’t know what kind of cancer King Charles III suffers from, where in his body the renegade cells were found or what sort of treatment he is receiving. Even still, he is suddenly one of the most prominent cancer patients in the world, with the potential to influence how people think about this disease in Britain and beyond.

How will he use that platform? By revealing his cancer diagnosis, and before that by disclosing treatment for a benign prostate enlargement, he has already gone beyond what British monarchs have traditionally been willing to say about their health, especially, as Charles previously put it, one’s “private parts.”

Charles is also known to have strong opinions on diet, health and medical therapies — and over his lifetime, he has delivered dozens, maybe even hundreds of speeches expounding on those ideas, as a proponent of New-Age-style remedies.

King Charles III diagnosed with cancer, postpones public duties

In addition to being a patron of well-established cancer research organizations, Charles founded a charity promoting alternative medicine. He believes in homeopathy, which many authorities dismiss as pseudoscience. He has also promoted some cancer treatments — coffee enemas, carrot juice — that have raised the eyebrows of eminent British oncologists.

As far as his own cancer, Buckingham Palace officials said it was detected at a top-tier private hospital, the London Clinic. For treatment, palace officials have said only that he is “receiving expert care,” on a regular, outpatient basis. They have not said whether that includes rounds of radiation or chemotherapy.

The king has long pushed the medical establishment to offer “integrated health-care,” which considers the whole person, not only one’s disease, but the mental and spiritual health of the patient. He supports “complementary therapies” such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology and massage.

Treating the “whole patient” is now a mainstream idea in modern cancer care — but not at the cost of proven and targeted treatments.

As prince and heir to the throne in 2004, Charles created a stir when he publicly endorsed the idea that cancer patients be treated with daily coffee enemas, vitamin injections and 13 fruit juices.

King Charles III: Memorable quotes from his decades as an outspoken royal

That treatment, known as Gerson Therapy, is named after the German doctor Max Gerson, who developed the protocol in the 1920s.

Cancer Research UK, one of the world’s largest funding organizations, states bluntly, “There is no scientific evidence to use it as a treatment for cancer.”

Michael Baum, a prominent oncologist, responded to Charles at the time in the British Medical Journal, writing: “With respect, your highness, you’ve got it wrong.”

Baum wrote that he might share Charles’s well-known and sometimes contrarian ideas about art and architecture, but added, “I do beg you to exercise your power with extreme caution when advising patients with life threatening diseases to embrace unproven therapies.”

Charles is also a longtime supporter of homeopathy, the use of highly diluted substances that practitioners claim can cause the body to heal itself, developed by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann in the early 1800s.

In 2011, when Charles was marketing an “herbal detox tincture” under his Duchy Originals brand, Britain’s leading alternative medicine researcher accused him of being a “snake oil salesman.”

In 2017, Britain’s National Health Service announced it would no longer fund homeopathy treatments. The NHS concluded: “There’s no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition.” This decision was backed by a High Court judgment in 2018, which considered the treatment pseudoscientific.

Charles’s interest in homeopathy and alternative medicine has followed him onto the throne.

In December, the king appointed physician Michael Dixon, who advocates the use of homeopathic remedies alongside conventional treatment, to lead the medical office in the Royal Household.

Dixon had served as chair of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, the charity founded by Charles.

The Telegraph newspaper quoted Dixon opposing cuts in 2006 to funding for alternative approaches, arguing that “clinical barons should not be telling those of us who have to deal with daily human suffering what to do.”

After Dixon’s appointment was announced, Buckingham Palace issued a statement clarifying that the physician “does not believe homeopathy can cure cancer.” The statement went on to say that when Charles was Prince of Wales he supported “complimentary therapies,” which did not infer any rejection of conventional medicines.

Catherine Mayer, in her deeply researched book “Charles: The Heart of a King,” writes that Charles’s embrace of alternative medicine is connected to his core beliefs. He believes that humankind has fallen from grace, from a more traditional, natural, edenic state, by succumbing too much to mechanistic, technological, modernist thinking — rather than the “whole-ism” (his spelling) he believes is the correct path.

Charles believes in the healing power of nature, to help modern humans get back into balance and harmony. He wrote a whole book on the topic.

In his long time as heir, Charles was mocked for speaking out against modern architecture, especially its 1970s “brutalist” forms, in favor of more “human-scaled” building from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian ages. Charles put his money where his mouth was and built a whole town, called Poundbury, based on those ideas. It is today a popular place to live, work and visit.

King Charles III built a town from scratch. It embodies his worldview.

He was also condemned as a silly “tree hugger” back in the day, but it turns out he was right in ringing the alarm very early about the climate and biodiversity crisis.

His record on health care has gotten more mixed reviews.

But Lawrence Young, a professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School, said Charles’s openness about his enlarged prostate has already had a positive impact — sparking a wave of enquiries from patients wanting tests and exams.

With the reveal that he has cancer, Charles has gone further. “For some people, the diagnosis of cancer is a very lonely thing,” Young said. “You can feel quite isolated. This puts cancer into the headlines. It demonstrates that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can still get this disease.”

Charles has previously spoken with empathy about a cancer patient’s journey.

“The terrifying sense of doom felt when diagnosed with cancer can bring with it a profound sense of frustration and lack of control,” he said in speech to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2004. “Negative emotions can have a negative physical impact. This can, in part, be mediated by giving patients treatment choice: treatments that allow personal health management, and that help to foster a renewed sense of control through integrated approaches to health.”

Charles has also in the past talked about the importance of talking about cancer. In 2000, he used his pulpit to press Britons to submit to bowel cancer screening.

“One of the problems, I’m sure, is that the British are just not good at talking about health problems in the more private parts of their bodies,” he said. “But we need to recognize that our ‘polite’ nature, while often admirable, is probably a significant factor in the poor awareness of the symptoms.”

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