Alternative medicine, according to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), is “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered to be part of conventional medicine”. Cancer, like many other illnesses, may be successfully treated using alternative or complementary therapies:
- Alternative Treatment: When unconventional treatments are used instead of conventional medicine they are referred to as alternative treatments. Using herbal therapy in place of chemotherapy to treat cancer is an example of alternative medicine. Alternative medicine may be used to treat cancer, but it should never be used exclusively to cure cancer.
- Complementary Treatment: Unconventional treatments that are used in conjunction with conventional medicine fall under the umbrella of complementary medicine. Using Tai Chi to reduce the stresses of radiotherapy is an example of complementary medicine.
Worldwide, millions of cancer patients are using alternative medicine to address their cancer. Alternative methods of cancer treatment can appear fascinating and uplifting, but they should never be viewed as a “magical cure”. Instead, alternative medicine should be approached as a means to embellish upon conventional medicine.
The use of any unconventional treatment warrants a visit to your doctor. You should never begin an alternative therapy without talking to your healthcare provider first. In some cases, the use of alternative medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine may create a potentially harmful cocktail of substances and activities.
Why is Alternative Medicine Unconventional?
Alternative medicine is “unconventional” for a myriad of reasons:
- Scientifically Unproven: Many unconventional treatment methods are not supported by scientific data. As a result, conventional doctors, clinics, and hospitals risk professional and legal turmoil when they recommend unproven alternative treatment modalities.
- Potentially Harmful: A scientifically unproven practice or product may jeopardize the patient’s overall treatment. Herbal therapies, for example, may not be hazardous on their own, but they may inhibit the effects of conventional medicine.
- Coping Mechanisms: Most “alternative” cancer treatments are not curative. They may be effectively used to help patients cope with the rigors of conventional medicine, not in place of conventional medicine. Client testimonials and best-selling books are inspiring, but not always scientific.
How Can Alternative Treatment Methods Help?
Conventional medicine often causes negative side effects:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Difficulty Sleeping
Although side effect management is more potent today than ever before, many cancer patients need additional help coping with the signs and symptoms associated with conventional cancer treatments.
Alternative Treatments That You Should Consider
The following treatments are widely embraced throughout the medical community for their healing properties:
In aromatherapy, oils infused with natural scents (i.e. lavender, rosemary, and sandalwood) are used to reduce stress, pain, and nausea. These fragrant oils can be applied directly to the skin, added to bath water, or heated which to fill the air with their scent.
- Application: You can perform aromatherapy in the comfort of your won home, or a practitioner can perform the therapy in a professional environment (i.e. spa, sauna, or massage room).
- Risks: Certain oils may cause allergic reactions when applied directly to the skin.
Acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into your skin. When these needles are inserted at precise locations around the body, they may help reduce nausea and pain.
- Application: A licensed practitioner should perform Acupuncture with sterile needles.
- Risks: If you have a low blood count or if you are taking blood thinners, acupuncture may not be safe for you.
Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese artform that uses deep-breathing techniques and gentle, flowing movements to promote mind-body harmony. Practicing Tai Chi may reduce stress and difficulty sleeping.
- Application: Tai Chi may be practiced under the instruction of a teacher in a studio environment. You can also learn the Tai Chi artform from books, videos, and Internet resources.
- Risks: Tai Chi is a gentle exercise. Regardless, you should always talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise routine.
Listening to music, writing lyrics, playing an instrument, and singing may help control nausea, stress, and pain.
- Application: Musical therapy can be experienced under the guidance of a professional musical therapist, or you can simply put on one of your favorite records or strum an acoustic guitar.
- Risks: None. There’s a lot of music out there… find something fresh and inspiring.
Meditation is a mental discipline intended to bring about relaxation and/or heightened awareness of the self and the world around you. Meditation involves deep-breathing and concentration on a single idea or image.
- Application: You can meditate under the guidance of an instructor, or you can practice meditation alone in the comfort of your home.
- Risks: None
A massage is the manipulation of soft tissue (skin, muscles, and tendons). Therapists knead soft tissue with their hands, feet, forearms, elbows, and other body parts. Massage therapy may help cancer patients cope with stress, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, fatigue, and pain.
- Application: Massage therapy is most effective when performed by a professional massage therapist. Many cancer centers employ full-time massage therapists.
- Risks: If you have a low blood count, you should not have a massage. If you have tumors in your bones, ask your therapist to use light pressure during the massage. Always ask you massage therapist to avoid kneading tissue around surgical scars, tumors, or radiation treatment areas.
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). 2007. Retrieved on April 20, 2009 from.
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 1998-2009. Retrieved April 20, 2009 from.
- National Cancer Institute (NCI). Retrieved on April 20, 2009 from.