Empowering the Patient
Ten years ago, Professor Robert Thomas, MB ChB MRCP MD FRCR (yep, he’s that qualified), identified a major flaw in the UK’s health care system: patient access to independent information was poor. He watched doctors blindly prescribe chemotherapy and radiation for cancer patients without giving them the tools to fully understand their treatment options or information to empower them to improve their own health naturally.
Though trained in traditional western oncology, Robert believes chemotherapy is just one piece of what should be a comprehensive approach to treating cancer. Unfortunately, he noted, many oncologists see chemo as the only approach.
“You can do a lot more to help a patient than poison them with chemo,” said Robert. “You can teach them strategies to enhance the effect of the treatment, reduce toxicity, and help them recover quicker after they’ve beaten cancer.”
By day, Robert Thomas M.D. is an award-winning oncologist at Cambridge University Hospital specializing in breast, prostate, and bowel cancer, a highly esteemed professor, and author of Lifestyle After Cancer, which teaches cancer patients how to live better and longer.
Catching the Nutrition Bug
Robert noticed that with better access to information, patients were becoming increasingly interested in nutritional health and exercise, and living longer when they improved their lifestyles.
“I became quite fascinated by nutrition, you could say I caught the bug,” Robert recalled. “I thought, ‘how do my patients want to eat, and why aren’t they eating properly?’”
At the time, research on nutritional supplements was sparse. Eager to recommend nutritional supplements backed by clinical evidence, Robert developed a lifestyle clinical research unit. To date, he has published over 100 scientific papers, but his most remarkable study was recently published in 2013.
Designing the Pomi-T Study
Robert Thomas designed the Pomi-T study, which analyzed the anti-cancer effects of four polyphenol-rich whole foods: pomegranate, broccoli, turmeric, and green tea. The results were shockingly good: after taking concentrated amounts of these four ingredients for six months, subjects experienced a 63.8 percent drop in protein-specific antigen (PSA), which is often over-expressed in men with prostate cancer.
“The goal was to find an easy way for people to add a ‘boost’ to their diet,” said Robert. “We sort of knew these four ingredients might have an effect on cancer progression, but the results were really impressive.”
Robert also noted that patients in the early stages of cancer diagnosis who began supplementing with concentrated amounts of pomegranate, broccoli, turmeric, and green tea saw their cancers slow drastically. Some of Robert’s patients have reported that these four whole foods seem to help ease other symptoms such as joint pain as well.
While the Pomi-T study uncovered a major breakthrough for cancer patients, Robert hopes to conduct further trials on the benefits of whole foods for other health problems including autoimmune disorders. Meanwhile, he’s busy having tea with the Queen, competing in rugby tournaments, and creating smart phone apps. Yes, seriously, he’s just a super cool guy. We’re proud to know Robert personally (Cindy met with him at a San Diego integrative medicine conference and the two hit it off; and Ian, a fellow Brit and our strategic projects guy, is planning to meet up with Robert in London later this year to explore cost-effective ways of funding more of Robert’s research).
Tracking Prostate Health with Your Smart Phone?
Eager as ever to empower patients to take control of their health, Robert developed a smart phone app that allows patients to track and monitor their PSA levels.
“If you’re watching someone with a slow growing disease, it’s very useful to know how fast the PSA is rising. This is called a potential doubling time,” explained Robert.
The app (called PSACalc and available on all iOS devices for $9.99) allows you to enter multiple PSA figures and the time between each number was measured to create a graph of the doubling time.
“I constantly found myself drawing rough graphs in the clinic, which is quite time-consuming and imprecise,” said Robert. “This app allows the patient to track their PSA at home and monitor how lifestyle changes affect doubling time.”
The app is also embedded with a wealth of information on PSA, prostate health, diet, and exercise to help the user lead a healthy life. Plus, half of the proceeds from PSACalc sales go directly to funding further nutritional research, so it’s a win-win! But PSACalc isn’t the only way Robert raises money to fund his research.
Tackling, Running, and Competing in the Name of Research
When it comes to recommending exercise and raising money for research studies, Robert believes in leading by example. We caught wind that Robert is quite the rugby player and asked about the rumor:
“You don’t play rugby at my age unless you’re mad,” Robert joked. “But yes, I have gotten to a quite competitive level for my age.”
In addition to competing in high stakes rugby tournaments, Robert has graduated to running the London Marathon (which he’s completed five times) and competes annually in the World Medical Games, all to raise money for more studies like the Pomi-T trial.
“You have to make an honest effort to raise every penny yourself,” said Robert.
How to Get Invited to Tea by the Queen of England
Robert’s efforts have not gone unrecognized by the medical community in Britain. In 2001, Robert was awarded “Doctor of the Year” by Hospital Doctor Magazine. But it doesn’t stop there: that prestigious honor was followed by an “Oncologist of the Year” award in 2007 and a National Institute of Clinical Excellence best practice award just this year. While Robert appreciates the recognition, it’s the credibility he gains from his peers that allows him to expand his mission.
“If you want to conduct a study about nutrition or exercise, my peers will often sneer and say ‘that’s not exciting, it’s not our job to be concerned about what happens after the chemo or radiotherapy.’ This recognition means colleagues are now starting take our studies seriously.”
It seems Robert already has at least one person convinced of his cause: none other than the Queen of England invited him to attend a famous soiree known as a garden party this year. Though Robert was modest about this honor, we found out that snagging an invitation means the Queen and her people think you’ve accomplished something quite remarkable in public service. At Buckingham Palace, Robert will be treated to tea, cake, a garden stroll, and a nod of appreciation from the Queen herself.
Looking to the Future
By conducting more studies on the healing power of whole foods, Robert hopes to steer public perception of integrative methods “away from images of shady cauldrons and witches and into mainstream oncology, where they should be.” Bravo, Robert! We think Robert’s work is pretty awesome and we’ll continue to report on what he’s up to next. Keep on the lookout for some guest newsletters from Robert himself!