Cancer, the dreaded disease, is when the cells of your body divide rapidly and out of control. These abnormal cells then form a mass, which can invade and spread throughout the body. Cancer is the Latin word for crab, and much like its namesake, it tends to grasp the tissue and not let go.
Known colloquially as a tumor, Cancer is a major burden worldwide. Tens of millions of people get diagnosed with cancer each year. Of those half eventually die because of it. (1)
The disease has become a global threat, instilling more fear than death itself. You can get cancer irrespective of your age, gender, and social status. It not only takes a toll on your physical health, but it is going to drown you mentally, emotionally, and financially.
Poor lifestyle habits and bad eating contribute to the development of cancer. But these are not the only risk factors. In about 65% of the cases, cancer occurs due to genetic problems, hormones, chronic health conditions, smoking, tobacco chewing, late pregnancy, and viral infections. Additionally, if someone in your family has had cancer, it also increases your likelihood of getting one.
While you cannot do much about the non-modifiable risk factors like genetics, age, and family history; physical fitness, diet, and lifestyle choices are in your hands. Like the adage “prevention is better than cure”, getting a good head start on the disease will reduce the holistic damage done by cancer.
There are many warning signs of cancer. You should watch out for a sore that doesn’t heal, any alterations in bowel or bladder habits, unexplained and significant weight loss, a lump in whichever part of the body, unusual bleeding or discharge, or any obvious change in your voice and appetite. (2)
Survival rates for cancer are increasing, thanks to improvements in screening and treatment modalities. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy are the three most common forms of cancer treatment. These treatment options may be effective, but they also produce distressing and demoralizing side effects. Hair loss, sore skin, problems with eating and drinking, feeling sick, infections, and issues with sex and fertility are some cancer-treatment-associated side effects.
Although chemotherapy and radiotherapy are associated with a plethora of side effects, these are only some of the ways we have to beat cancer. What we need now is to make cancer treatments produce long-lasting results with a better quality of life.
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, or PEMF, is one of the approaches that enhance the value of existing cancer treatments. It is a useful addition to the conventional arsenal of cancer treatments. It can be used for both short-term and long-term management of cancer, either as an adjunct or part of preventive care.
Let us now understand what PEMF is and how it contributes to cancer treatments. We will also dive deeper into the research on PEMF treatment for cancer.
What is PEMF therapy?
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, abbreviated as PEMF, is a safe and non-invasive technique that uses harmless electromagnetic waves. These waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are delivered to the body via different devices.
Initially approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of fractures, PEMF is now used for a broad range of diseases like post-surgical pain and swelling, non-healing ulcers, chronic inflammation and pain, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, dementia, and cancer treatment. It is now FDA-approved for general use and many people across the globe use PEMF therapy devices for a host of problems. (3)
The low-frequency magnetic stimulus produced by PEMF therapy increases cell metabolism and energy and reduces inflammatory mediators. This decreases inflammation, increases oxygen circulation ultimately improving mobility, promoting accelerated tissue healing, and easing pain.
What is the Role of PEMF in Cancer?
Our cells have electromagnetic fields that are required for their basic functioning. The cells are driven by a particular resonance and intensity of electromagnetic waves, which when disrupted leads to the development of diseases like cancer.
The resonance generated by cancer cells is different from those produced by healthy cells. Cancer cells have abnormal electrical properties. This was evident in a mouse-based study where measurable changes in the electromagnetic field of a cell lead to the development of cancer.
A normal healthy cell functions at a particular voltage level. When the cellular voltage decline, the cells cannot function properly. It cannot take in nutrients nor can it remove waste material. Cancer develops due to abnormal stressors at a cellular level, according to the metabolic theory of cancer. (4)
PEMF therapy is a painless, simple, and non-invasive technique to increase the permeability of the cells and generate electrical pulses. It fixes any abnormal resonance and restores the voltage of the cells to a normal level. PEMF therapy thereby prevents cells from turning cancerous.
The therapy also restores free radical and antioxidant balance, which would otherwise lead to DNA damage. When the cells with damaged DNA proliferate rather than die out, it leads to the development of cancer.
What are the Benefits of PEMF therapy?
One of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment is pain.
Tumor cells can press and invade the bone, nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments leading to significant pain. Cancer chemotherapy can also result in nerve damage that can cause burning pain or tingling and numbness.
Patients living with cancer are often given pain-relieving medication. While some people benefit from milder analgesics like ibuprofen, others require powerful drugs like morphine to tackle the overwhelming pain. Opioids analgesics come with their own set of disadvantages such as addiction, respiratory depression, a decline in effectiveness over time, and overdosing.
PEMF therapy may be a viable alternative to cancer-related analgesia. Just as they ease many forms of long-term pain, PEMF therapy is effective in relieving pain due to cancer.
PEMF can also enhance the existing cancer treatments. It can improve oxygenation to the tissues, as well as promote healthy cell growth.
PEMF has been used in various cancer types including prostate, lung, ovary, pancreas, thyroid, bladder, colon, breast, and liver. (5)
The anti-cancer activity of PEMF was evaluated in a study, where the breast cancer cells were exposed to 50Hz of PEMF for 24 and 72 hours. It was found that PEMF therapy for breast cancer reduced viable cells with 55% of living cells remaining after 24 hours and 20% after 72 hours. Similar effects were also observed in colon cancer cells, where only 6% of the cells remained alive 72 hours after exposure to PEMF therapy. (5)
A 30-minute PEMF therapy three times a day for 6 days was found to cause shrinkage of tumor cells nucleus by 54% within a few minutes of therapy. There was also a reduction in the blood supply to the tumor after 15 minutes of therapy. Cutting off the blood supply to the tumor is an important step to halt its growth and PEMF therapy has shown positive results. (6)
PEMF therapy has been shown to enhance the effect of the chemotherapeutic agent (doxorubicin) in bone cancer. The synergistic effect of PEMF therapy could be used as a novel therapeutic strategy against the tumor. (7)
The low intensity pulsed electromagnetic therapy has been found to selectively impair the viability of breast cancer cells, without affecting the normal non-cancerous cells. This PEMF-based anti-cancer strategy may potentially be a new treatment approach and can be combined with existing anti-cancer treatments. (8)
Human ovarian cancer cells were exposed to PEMF stimulation twice daily in a 2012 study from China. PEMF ovarian cancer therapy has been shown to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and promote cells death by apoptosis. (9)
The effect of pulsed electromagnetic stimulation was studied in the most aggressive and common brain tumor known as Glioblastoma. The study combined PEMF therapy with a chemotherapy drug and assessed the ability of electromagnetic therapy to counteract tumor growth. There was a modulation in the genes that regulated tumor progression with the synergistic use of PEMF therapy. The tumor cells also manifested a pro-apoptotic effect, that is the ability of the cells to induce its death.
Can PEMF Cause Cancer?
There is currently no scientific evidence of PEMF therapy causing cancer. It is safe and approved by the FDA.
How to Use PEMF for Cancer?
PEMF is a simple technique. You need to lie down on the PEMF mat which generates steady and rhythmic pulses. The frequency and strength of the pulses can be adjusted, and you will hardly feel any sensation. The PEMF device can be used several times a week, as directed by your health care provider.
Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy is an emerging and interesting therapeutic option in cancer patients. It is a safe therapy that does not have risks of toxicity. It also does not produce side effects that often accompany traditional chemotherapy. PEMF therapy enhances the production of healthy blood cells, oxygenates the blood, and reduces the pain associated with cancer and its treatment. It can also be easily combined with other cancer treatment modalities. All these benefits make PEMF an excellent choice for improving the overall quality of life in people with cancer.
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3. Markov, Marko S. “Expanding use of pulsed electromagnetic field therapies.” Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine vol. 26,3 (2007): 257-74. doi:10.1080/15368370701580806
4. Seyfried, Thomas N. “Cancer as a mitochondrial metabolic disease.” Frontiers in cell and developmental biology vol. 3 43. 7 Jul. 2015, doi:10.3389/fcell.2015.00043
5. Vadalà, Maria et al. “Mechanisms and therapeutic effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in oncology.” Cancer medicine vol. 5,11 (2016): 3128-3139. doi:10.1002/cam4.861
6. Nuccitelli, Richard et al. “Nanosecond pulsed electric fields cause melanomas to self-destruct.” Biochemical and biophysical research communications vol. 343,2 (2006): 351-60.doi:10.1016/j.bbrc.2006.02.181
7. Muramatsu, Yoshitaka et al. “Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Stimulation Promotes Anti-cell Proliferative Activity in Doxorubicin-treated Mouse Osteosarcoma Cells.” In vivo (Athens, Greece) vol. 31,1 (2017): 61-68. doi:10.21873/invivo.11026
8. Crocetti, Sara et al. “Low intensity and frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields selectively impair breast cancer cell viability.” PloS one vol. 8,9 e72944. 11 Sep. 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0072944
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10. Pasi, Francesca et al. “Pulsed Electromagnetic Field with Temozolomide Can Elicit an Epigenetic Pro-apoptotic Effect on Glioblastoma T98G Cells.” Anticancer research vol. 36,11 (2016): 5821-5826. doi:10.21873/anticanres.11166