Cancer treatments have come a long way since the first mention of the disease in Ancient Egypt. Although a definitive “cure” has not been found, medical advancements such as chemotherapy, radiation treatment, immunotherapy, hormonal therapy, and targeted tumor removal have improved the quality of life and lengthened the lifespan of cancer patients. Despite this success, cancer is still a debilitating disease which affects significant numbers of the population, many of whom have begun to use alternative medicine as a supplement to their conventional treatment.
Complementary cancer therapies have been reported to help boost the immune systems, reduce medication side effects and lower the stress levels of cancer patients. Although we do not know for sure what percentage of patients use these therapies, one study revealed that 88 percent of those interviewed had tried an alternative cancer treatment.
The following alternative treatments are recognized by the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Alternative Medical Systems
This category encompasses medical systems with their own theories and styles of practice. The most common and widely studied example of this type of treatment is acupuncture. Considered a part of the Chinese medical system, acupuncture has been shown to help manage cancer symptoms and the side effects of medication, particularly those of chemotherapy. In addition to the traditional side effects of nausea and vomiting, acupuncture has been shown to be effective at treating shortness of breath, a symptom experienced by many lung cancer patients, and joint pain, a common side effect of breast cancer medications.
Energy therapies use the healing power of the body’s energy fields to balance the body’s natural energy and magnetic fields. There are two categories of this treatment, biofield therapies and electromagnetic therapies. It is thought that these therapies, which include qi gong, Reiki, therapeutic touch, and magnet therapy, improve cell regeneration and decrease inflammation.
The most commonly investigated exercise methods are yoga and tai chi. A recent study of breast cancer patients demonstrated that women who attended 10 weekly 75-minute yoga sessions showed significant improvement in emotional outcomes and reduction in fatigue.
Manipulative and Body-Based Methods
This category of alternative treatment includes chiropractic, massage, osteopathy and reflexology therapies. Research supports the belief that these treatments have positive outcomes when paired with traditional cancer treatments, giving particular credit to the ability of massage therapy to reduce patients’ pain.
One type of massage therapy that has been shown to be particularly effective is known as the lymphatic massage. Traditionally, this treatment helps to drain lymphatic fluid that has built-up in the lymph nodes after surgery. The therapy has been very effective with breast cancer patients, and has been shown to help soothe anxiety levels.
Mind-body techniques focus on the ways that the mind affects bodily functions, and attempts to treat your body by first addressing your mental issues. Examples of this type of treatment include meditation, hypnosis, biofeedback, imagery, and art and music therapy. A recent study concluded that all of these methods can help improve treatment outcomes and manage symptoms.
Nutritional Therapies attempt to improve the life-quality and prognosis of cancer patients by addressing flaws in their diet. This type of therapy includes both nutrient supplementation and dietary therapy. Examples that have been shown to be effective include macrobiotic diets, vegetarianism, vitamins, antioxidants and coenzyme Q10. More simply, eating foods with high levels of beta-carotene, selenium, and vitamins E and C may stop cancer cell development. A recent study reported that dietary antioxidants such as those listed above can slow cancer cell development and even reverse disease progression.
Pharmacological Therapies and Biologics
This includes off-label use of prescription drugs, vaccines, hormones and natural products. One herbal product that is currently being examined for benefits of use when paired with chemotherapy is mistletoe. The same facility is also investigating the efficacy of ginger as a treatment for nausea and vomiting elicited by chemotherapy.
Although not a physical treatment, spiritual methods have shown relative success in improving survival rates of cancer patients. Prayer is the method that has been researched most extensively, although many other kinds of healing fall into this category. A study examining the connection between religion and health concluded that there is a positive correlation between the two.
If you or someone you know is battling cancer, consider sharing this post with them. Although traditional therapies are still vital to any successful treatment plan, many of these relatively easy and painless strategies make an ideal supplement to a conventional plan, and may make all the difference.