Complementary therapies for cancer care: What the study says

Onefter Marianne Sarcich has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 2016, she called an acupuncturist hoping to ease her cancer-related anxiety – but must speak first.

“I told her right away that I didn’t think this was going to work, I didn’t believe it, but I was desperate,” she said. “Absolutely nothing else helps. I only consider acupuncture to knock it off the list of possibilities.”

To her shock, it helped. Within a few months of training, she felt the tightening anxiety begin to ease, and Sarcich began to consider other supplement options she had previously eliminated. She was curious about the breath; reiki, is a form of healing energy; attention; acoustic bathroom; and yoga. She said they all helped her side effects in some way.

“When these efforts stack up, it’s a huge relief,” she said. These complementary therapies didn’t treat her cancer—nor did she expect them—but they helped ease her anxiety and improve her mood during her arduous treatment. Sarcich joins the patient advocacy committee for the Society of Integrative Cancer, which recommends holistic, evidence-based therapies to complement FDA-approved cancer treatments. She also started a 1,000-member peer support group for people with cancer who are interested in complementary therapies.

“If something works to solve common problems in cancer care such as pain, anxiety, mobility problems, depression and fatigue, you get it and you get it,” she says. Help others do the same.”

Variation to Complementary Therapies

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become increasingly popular in the United States, especially among cancer patients, over the past few decades. People with cancer can use complementary therapies alongside standard medical care — or, in the case of alternative medicine, instead. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of complementary or alternative medicine for treating cancer (and replacing standard care with alternative treatments can be life-threatening).

But some methods, when used along with conventional medicine, can help ease some of the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment, according to a new study. National Cancer Institute (NCI), in a practice known as integrative medicine. One the number is increasing Comprehensive cancer centers are offering integrative medicine, and in 2018 for the first time the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) authentication The Society for Integrative Oncology evidence-based guidelines recommend certain integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment.

Every complementary therapy — whether meditation, hypnosis, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, cannabis, dietary supplements, chiropractic, acupressure, nutritional therapy, aromatherapy, Energy therapy, massage, music therapy, dance or one of many other therapies — there are varying levels of evidence behind it, according to the NCI, and people with cancer should discuss this with their home health care provider. their health care provider before starting.

One learn published year JAMA Oncology in 2019, using data from 2012, showed that approximately 33% of cancer patients in the US use CAM. The real number is likely much higher – probably around 80%, said Dr Steve Vasilev, medical director of integrative gynecological oncology at Providence Saint John Health Center and professor at Saint John Cancer Institute in California said.

“When I started practicing 30 years ago, patients asked about old-fashioned therapies like snake venom,” he says. “But now, people are more interested in evidence-based therapies like acupuncture or nutritional changes. Fortunately, we now have more data that can actually be useful. “

Left side and reverse side

Dr. Lakshmi Rajdev, chief of hematology and oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says one of the most important benefits of complementary therapy is that it helps patients feel empowered. Being diagnosed and treated for cancer can be overwhelming and stressful, and many people feel caught up in the health care system, she said. Choosing complementary options can help people feel in control, which is important psychologically.

“The data support the use of these complementary therapies in reducing stress and improving coping skills, both of which are therapeutically beneficial,” says Rajdev. “They may not change the way the disease progresses, but they help patients cope with their disease, and that’s incredibly important.”

Another major benefit is that they can reduce the side effects of treatment, especially those that affect quality of life, such as depression, nausea, headaches, and pain. With ASCO endorsement and based on existing evidence, the Integrative Cancer Society suggestion meditation, music therapy, and yoga to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress in people being treated for breast cancer, along with massage to improve mood, acupuncture and acupressure to reduce nausea and vomiting after during chemotherapy.

Jack Jacoub, an oncologist and medical director of the MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in California, adds:

“Cancer therapy is a lot different than it was five or 10 years ago,” he said. “There are still side effects, but we are moving away from chemotherapy and into targeted therapies that cause less nausea and pain. That means complementary therapies don’t have to be intense to work. For example, with mild muscle tension, maybe just a few massage sessions can help. “

One challenge is that some therapies, such as acupuncture, can take weeks or months to produce meaningful mental and physical changes, Vasilev says. A few months can be crucial for someone with cancer, especially when they are struggling with intense symptoms such as nausea and anxiety.

The larger potential downside is interference with conventional treatments, which is why patients should always tell their healthcare provider if they are using any therapy. any other than what they are specified. The JAMA Oncology learn found that of those with cancer using CAM therapy, 29% did not tell their doctor, which is potentially dangerous. Rajdev says that the interference of cancer treatments mainly occurs with supplements, herbs and vitamins. Although they may be of natural origin, some have been found to reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy.

“Nearly every patient asks me about supplements because they want to boost their immune system, and they tend to get advice from friends and family members about what to take,” says Rajdev. use. “The best advice here is to wait until treatment is complete and instead focus on complementary therapies that are unlikely to interact with chemotherapy or pain medication.”

Often, exercise is the most effective non-medical therapy to add to cancer treatment, she says. Evidence shows that regular activity can significantly reduce the effects of cancer treatment, so yoga, or even just walking more, can safely boost immunity.

The dangers of alternative medicine

Instead of integrating complementary therapies into a conventional cancer treatment plan, which may include typical treatments such as radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy, a patient pursues “alternative medicine.” “will perform these therapies instead of conventional medical treatment.

Alternative medicine has little, if any, evidence of effectiveness and possible harm. In some cases, using these therapies in place of medical strategies can worsen your condition, Jacoub says.

“It is a natural response to look for other answers, especially if you have doubts about the health care system or you have had negative experiences,” he said. “Cost can be another issue, when you’re worried about how much cancer care will cost, so you want to try an alternative therapy first. Unfortunately, there is simply no convincing evidence that any of these therapies work for stand-alone cancer care, and they may delay you from getting treatment.”

A notable example is Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003 when he was 48 years old. He initially decided to forgo conventional treatments and instead use dietary changes, botanical formulas, juices and acupuncture, but he changed his mind. nine months later and elect to have surgery, followed by treatment with targeted immunotherapy. He died seven years later, and experts To speak It is not known whether that delay shortened his life or if those alternative therapies would provide any benefit. However, Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson later noted that the tech icon regretted his decision to delay the surgery and subsequent treatment.

Despite the risks and lack of evidence, the appeal of alternative medicine persists. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, about 40% of Americans believe that cancer can be cured through alternative therapies alone — a statistic shows The American Cancer Society calls for alarmbecause research shows that people who use alternative therapies in place of standard cancer treatments have much higher mortality rates.


Standing on the doorstep of cancer treatment can be intimidating. Sarcich says complementary therapies can help keep you moving forward, especially because they provide a much-needed sense of control.

“There is a meaning that you need to do anything else, because if you feel helpless in the middle of all this, it can be terrible,” she said. As long as it’s safe, “Why not try everything? It’s likely you’ll find a few options that work for you and you’ll actually fall in love, even if you don’t think so. “

If the therapies you’ve chosen aren’t likely to interfere with your cancer treatment, Rajdev adds, there are often only adjunctive options like art therapy, yoga, reiki or massage.

“The data on interventions like these are compelling and I believe in some of them because I have seen them help my patients,” she said. “The first step is to talk to your oncologist and create a plan together.”

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