Thursday, April 15, 2010

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

You may have a friend who knows someone who knows someone who had a brother-in-law who used herbs to cure his cancer. Or a buddy who followed a detoxification diet and cured his heart disease. And so on, and so on. We’ve all heard or read the stories about miracle cures, and they can be very compelling — especially if you have a potentially life-threatening disease like cancer. But stories about amazing cures aren't proof that a treatment works.

There are a number of non-traditional treatments that can complement traditional cancer care and help you feel better. But there are also alternative treatments that can be harmful; so, before trying anything new, talk to your doctor.

The American Cancer Society considers complementary medicine and alternative medicine to be different from one another. Most physicians do, too:

Alternative medicine is used instead of standard or mainstream medical treatment, often with negative outcomes for the patient. Alternative therapies are either unproven because they have not been scientifically tested, or they have been tested and found not to work. They may cause the patient to suffer because they are not helpful, because they can delay the use of proven methods, or because they are actually harmful.

Complementary medicine is used along with mainstream medical care. If carefully chosen and properly used, some complementary medicines or therapies can help relieve certain symptoms of cancer, relieve side effects of cancer treatment, or improve a patient's sense of well-being – all of which can improve your quality of life. Examples might include meditation to reduce stress, peppermint or ginger tea for nausea, and guided imagery to help relieve stress and pain during medical procedures.

In contrast to alternative therapies, most complementary mind-body methods are extremely safe. Some cancer treatment centers and clinics now offer something called integrative therapy, which is simply the combined use of proven mainstream treatments and complementary methods.

More and more doctors and scientists are now studying complementary therapies and medicines with the same careful methods used to study drugs. Results from many of these studies have been published in reliable, mainstream medical journals. As more of these studies are completed, patients and health care professionals will be able to make even better decisions about these treatments.
Complementary therapies to consider

Here is a partial list of complementary methods that some people have found helpful when used along with standard cancer treatment.

Acupuncture: An important part of traditional Chinese medicine, this technique involves inserting very thin needles into the skin at specific locations called acupoints in order to treat a number of symptoms. While there is no evidence acupuncture is an effective treatment for cancer, it may help with mild pain and nausea associated with cancer treatment.

Aromatherapy: Inhaling or applying fragrant substances to the skin may help patients cope with stress, chronic pain, nausea, and depression.

Art therapy: Creative activities may help people express emotions and deal with physical and emotional problems.

Biofeedback: This is a treatment method that can help a person gain control over physical processes that are usually controlled automatically, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating, and muscle tension. By giving a person a greater awareness of bodily functions, biofeedback can help a person regulate or alter other physical functions that may be causing discomfort.

Massage therapy: Studies suggest massage can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and fatigue in cancer patients.

Music therapy: This therapy is offered by trained health care professionals who use music to promote healing and enhance quality of life.

Prayer and spirituality: Spirituality is generally described as an awareness of something greater than the individual self. It is often expressed through religion and/or prayer, although there are many other paths of spiritual pursuit and expression.

Tai chi: An ancient Chinese martial art, tai chi combines movement, meditation, and breathing to improve health and well-being. It has been shown to improve strength and balance in some people.

Yoga: This is a form of anaerobic exercise that involves a program of precise posture and breathing activities. In ancient Sanskrit, the word yoga means "union."

Even though these practices are considered safe, always talk to your doctor and/or health care team first.

Signs of cancer treatments to avoid:

* Those that promise a cure for all cancers
* Those that tell you not to use standard medical treatment
* Those that claim to offer benefits with no side effects
* Those offered by only one person or clinic
* Those that require travel to another country
* Those that use terms like "scientific breakthrough" or "miracle cure"
* Those that offer stories of amazing results, but no scientific evidence
* Those that attack the medical or scientific community