Alternative Treatments For Cancer
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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) involves different healing approaches which integrate a variety of philosophies and therapies. Nearly 90 percent of people with cancer combine these non-traditional treatments with their prescribed cancer therapy. CAM therapies work by reducing some of the side effects of radiation therapy, cancer surgery and chemotherapy treatment, and by boosting the immune system and reducing stress. There is a growing acceptance of the importance of CAM therapies, to such an extent that many doctors are integrating these therapies into their oncology practice. It is important to note that CAM therapies cannot cure cancer; they are complementary therapies which compliment prescribed medical cancer treatments. Any practitioner who claims otherwise should be completely avoided. Some practitioners specialize in a particular therapy, be that acupuncture or herbs, while others can offer a combination of therapies. Below is a description of the most commonly available. The American Cancer Society always recommends patients who are contemplating using any complementary or non-mainstream therapies to discuss options with their doctor/healthcare team first.
In Chinese hospitals cancer patients often receive a herbal preparation twice a day, in addition to their radiation or chemotherapy treatment. According to Chinese nurses patients appear less tired and experience fewer bouts of nausea or vomiting as a result of treatment. While we are far from providing this service in America or Europe, interest in Eastern herbs and potions is growing. Historically, herbs were used in Western countries for thousands of years, and it was only in the 1920s that conventional medicine took over. Recently again however there has been a revival again in herbal therapies. Although herbal products may offer some benefit for cancer patients, they must be used wisely. The most commonly used herbs for cancer include:
Chaparral tea: Folk remedy for leukemia and cancer of stomach, lung, liver and kidney.
Any disease is best fought when the body is well nourished. Cancer treatment is much more effective when a person is following a nutritious diet with cancer diet foods. Their recovery chances are also improved. Although scientists do not yet agree on what constitutes 'optimal' nutrition of cancer, there is general agreement that certain vitamins and supplements are vital. These include vitamin C, A and E, as well as zinc, which all help cells to renew and heal. Many women who have cancer will benefit by seeing a nutritionist or dietitian who specializes in cancer care. Generally there are two types of dietary therapies recommended to cancer patients. Those are (1) Metabolic Therapy: This therapy focuses on ridding the body of all toxins so that it can better focus on healing. By clearing the cells of toxins, they are better able to absorb the nutrients needed for health. (2) Dietary Therapies: Focus on the nutrients bought into the body. Most treatments are vegetarian and require a patient to eat certain foods like wheatgrass extract, raw foods and grapes.
Visualization or mental imagery can be a powerful tool if used correctly. In this therapy a woman uses visualization (often in combination with mediation or hypnosis) to visualize a peaceful restful place. In the visualization she 'sees' the cancer cells being destroyed. To try it at home, lie down on a bed and breathe deeply. If it helps, repeat the word 'relax', until you feel your muscles weaken and sink into the bed. Imagine the therapy you are going through - imagine chemo being applied and see the cancer cells being picked out one by one and destroyed. Visualize the cancer cells drying up and dying. See the healthy white blood cells sweeping up the withered cancer cells and dumping then in a trash can. Finally see yourself cancer-free, healthy and revitalized.
Although rest is important for cancer patients, unnecessary bed rest can lead to depression (read effects of depression), as well as muscles weakening and wasting away. Several studies show that women who started exercising during radiation or chemotherapy felt an increased sense of control in their own functional abilities. It can help reduce anxiety, tension, and in many cases nausea. Popular forms of exercise include:
T'ai Chi: A gentle form of Chinese exercise involving slow movements.
The benefit of human touch has been well documented. Unfortunately those who are ill may be denied that physical comfort. Massage has been prescribed as a therapy for nearly fifteen hundreds years. While there is no evidence that it can cure disease, it certainly can improve joint flexibility, increase blood flow and ease pain. Reiki is a formalized laying of hands on a patient, applying energy over specific chakras of the body. Opening the energy channels is a way of relieving pain, energizing and speeding the healing process. Reflexology is another wonderful form of therapeutic touch. The idea is to place pressure on reflex points to stimulate energy and release pain.
Acupressure is an Asian healing technique, a form of massage that used acupoints to release tension. Reflexology is one form of acupressure (Shiatsu is the Japanese form). Stimulating the acupoints improves energy flow which in turn affects organs in different parts of the body. Acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into the skin to open energy flow. Research shows that the ‘happy hormone’ endorphin is released when acupoints are pressed or activated with a needle. It is likely that acupressure causes hormone changes which stimulate the immune system.
Most alternative or natural remedies are not legally controlled. For example, acupuncture, massage and mediation require no testing to prove their effectiveness. Dietary supplements do not require proof by the FDA that they work before being sold. For this reason, a patient needs to judge for themselves whether an alternative treatment is worth trying. Learn as much as possible about what’s on offer, discuss the options with your healthcare team, and make an informed decision.
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