Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be a part of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by medical doctors and other health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists and registered nurses.
Other terms for conventional medicine include:
- regular medicine and
Complementary and alternative therapies are not only used in cancer treatment. They are used to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side effects and symptoms, or control and cure diseases.
Some commonly used methods of complementary or alternative therapy include:
- mind/body control interventions such as visualization or relaxation
- manual healing, including acupressure and massage
- vitamins or herbal products
Incidence of use
Several studies have shown that the alternative and complementary medicine use among the general public, increased from 33.8 percent in 1990 to 42.1 percent in 1997. However, some other researches have indicated that only 28.9 percent of U.S. adults (age 18 and over) have used at least one complementary and alternative medicine therapy in the past year.
Complementary and alternative medicine approach
Many people don’t know that the same rigorous scientific evaluation used to assess the conventional approaches can be used to evaluate Complementary and Alternative medicine therapies.
Another fact is that the conventional approaches to cancer treatment have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through a rigorous scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients. However, the truth is that we know less about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods.
Cancer patients using or considering complementary or alternative therapy should know that some complementary and alternative therapies may interfere with the standard treatment or may be harmful when used at the same time with conventional treatment.
It is important to know that some therapies may improve a patient’s quality of life and others, even if used correctly, can harm a patient. Complementary and alternative medicine should be approached with an open, yet cautious mind.
Complementary and alternative medicine for cancer
Almost everyone has heard or seen the advertisements that claim a particular complementary and alternative medicine product or therapy cures cancer for sure. This isn’t something that should be believed in. The fact is that complementary and alternative medicine cannot cure cancer. The main problem is that some people don’t use the alternative medicine to support the conventional but in stead they ignore the conventional, proven cancer treatment and spend thousands of dollars trying questionable and ineffective therapy. Giving up on conventional cancer treatment that has been proved to help people with cancer repeatedly in clinical trials can be risky and even deadly.
Types of complementary and alternative treatments
In cancer treatment, there are several different complementary and alternative treatment approaches and the most commonly used are:
- Nutrition and herbs
- Detoxifying treatments
- Chemical and animal-based treatments
Nutrition and herbs
Nutritional therapy and herbal therapy are often presented as 100% natural, which might sound appealing, but in most cases these products are neither natural nor safe.
Most people are not aware that antioxidants occur naturally in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and some meats. Although some studies done in the past have reported that antioxidants may slow cancer growth, there is no real proof for this. Most of the experts don’t recommend the usage of these antioxidants along with conventional therapy because they might interfere with cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, and could become dangerous. A study showed that smokers who used antioxidant supplements had a higher risk of lung cancer than those who weren’t using them.
Most people believe that a diet rich in certain alkaline foods, meaning foods that aren't acidic, might cure cancer. This is based on a belief that foods such as soft drinks and meats make body acidic, allowing cancer to flourish. They suggest eating mainly alkaline foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and restricting acidic foods. There is no proof that this really works.
Essiac is a herbal tea mixture that has been used for many years to relieve pain and reduce the size of the tumors. The original formula contained four herbs:
- sheep sorrel and
- slippery elm
Although some tests have shown that chemicals in the herbs used in Essiac have some antioxidant, anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer activity, Essiac hasn't been proved to have any effect on cancer.
Laetrile is a nothing more then purified form of amygdalin, a chemical found in lima beans, raw nuts and the pits of many fruits. Amygdalin produces cyanide, and proponents of this treatment claim this substance kills cancer. Not only that it hasn't been proved to work against cancer, but it has even caused several deaths.
The macrobiotic diet is strictly vegetarian diet that is marketed for both prevention and treatment of cancer, though no proof exists that it does either. Eating plenty of vegetables can reduce your risk of cancer, but it isn’t know whether it can stop the cancer once it has already developed.
Megavitamin treatments are usually based on high doses of vitamins A, C and E. This sometimes requires taking hundreds of pills a day. If you already eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, you probably get enough of these vitamins without taking supplements. That’s why taking such megavitamin supplements can cause hypervitaminosis, a very serious condition that can even cause death!
Mistletoe extract has been shown to kill some cancer cells in laboratory conditions and it is applied in a form of injections that are given two to three times a week. Studies in people have had mixed results.
Proponents of this complementary and alternative medicine treatment believe that detoxification treatments clears body from harmful substances and stimulate the immune system to attack the cancer in the body. The trouble is that, since the cancer cells seem to hide from the normal immune systems, stimulating the immune system won't help body fight off the cancer.
Colon therapy is based on removal of the waste from a patient colon through a process in which a plastic tube is inserted through patient’s rectum and into colon. Up to 20 gallons of liquid, usually water, herbal solutions or coffee, is pumped into your large intestine.
The Gerson therapy uses minerals, enzymes and hormones to cleanse the body. The patients should consume about 13 glasses of organic fruit and vegetable juice every day.
This treatment incorporates special diets, supplements, pancreatic enzymes and coffee enemas to treat cancer.
Chemical and animal-based treatments
People that support this treatment believe that people with cancer and some other conditions have lower levels of coenzyme Q10, though there are no evidence to support this. When you take coenzyme Q10, either as an injection or a pill, it may act as an antioxidant and stimulate your immune system, but no studies have shown that coenzyme Q10 has any effect on cancer.
Some people believe that shark cartilage stops a tumor's growth by preventing it from growing new blood vessels.
The process is called angiogenesis. Some anti-tumor substances have been found in cartilage, though, and shark cartilage has been used only in clinical trials.
Complementary and alternative medicine for relieving symptoms of cancer
Even though they cannot cure cancer, some complementary and alternative medicine treatments may help relieve cancer symptoms.
In general, such treatments aren't invasive, which makes them safer than other complementary and alternative medicine treatments.
This treatment is based on inserting tiny needles into skin to stimulate body's natural energy. It is proven that acupuncture has been effective in treating pain and nausea in some people with cancer.
Aromatherapy is a treatment in which fragrant oils from plants are used in order to affect your mood. About 40 of various oils are usually used in aromatherapy. Most people are convinced that it helps reduce pain, depression and stress, and promote a general sense of well-being.
This relaxation method effectively relieves some chronic pain, and it may also reduce nausea and vomiting in people with cancer.
It is used to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation. Certain types of massage and spinal manipulation can also be unsafe if the bones in your back or neck have been weakened by cancer. Therefore, you should first discuss it with your health practitioner.