Ovarian cancer is an especially difficult disease. In its early, treatable stages it generates biomarkers (chemicals that can measured in blood tests) that can be confused with half a dozen other diseases. By the time it is causing obvious symptoms, it usually has spread. Some women actually do survive ovarian cancer; in fact, in recent years, nearly half of women diagnosed with any stage of this kind of cancer live five years or more. There are no natural treaments that offer good "alternative" to medical care, but there are several natural treatments that are complementary to medical care. However, prevention is better than treatment, and early treatment is better than delayed treatment.
What can women do to beat ovarian cancer? First of all, modern technology offers some women prevention of the disease. Women who have ovarian cancer in their families or who are in ethnic groups that often carry the BRAC2 gene (women who have Ashkenazi Jewish extraction are at greatest risk). However, up to 50% of women who carry the gene don't have ovarian cancer in the family, so almost any woman may be at risk. With this information, a woman may decide to undergo a procedure to remove the ovaries, called an oophorectomy, so that cancer never occurs. It's a drastic step, but sometimes women decide it makes sense.
Genetic testing enables some women to make sure ovarian cancer never happens, but not all ovarian cancers are caused by the BRAC2 gene. There are other kinds of tumors, germ cell tumors, immature teratoma, dysgerminoma, and so on, that involve the action of other genes. When these tumors occur, early detection can lead to effective medical treatment. The question is, how does a woman know it's becoming urgently necessary to see the doctor?
Women, whether they carry the BRAC2 gene or not need to see the doctor--and insist on thorough investigation--when they experience more than few days of vague "abdominal" symptoms such as gas, bloating, indigestion, heart burn, and pain similar to ovulation but not during the middle of the menstrual period. Ovarian cancers can cause a "belly bulge" even when there is no weight gain. There can be problems with urination such as dribbling or not feeling finished.
Other symptoms of the disease include:
- Menstrual bleeding after menopause.
- Passing clotted blood in the middle of the menstrual period (in women who are still in their reproductive years).
- Dry skin.
- Itchy skin.
- Leg pain.
- Lower back pain.
- Dry mouth, especially first thing in the morning.
- Blurred vision.
- A feeling that something is "stuck" in the abdomen.
There are many conditions that can cause these symptoms, but the use of medical ultrasound can detect ovarian cysts or tumor that can then be treated. Nearly 90% of women whose ovarian cancer is caught in Stage I survive it.
Medical treatment for ovarian cancer is a must, but there are some complementary treatments (treatments you take in addition to regular medical care) that can help.
- Once the disease has occurred, Chinese herbal formulas that contain the herb scutellaria may (but it's not absolutely proven) keep cancer cells that aren't killed by medical treatment from multiplying. Don't go out and buy scutellaria. Get a TCM doctor or a certified herbalist to choose a combination of herbs containing scutellaria that offers maximum benefit with minimum side effects.
- TCM and Kampo (Japanese herbal) medicines are especially helpful for treating symptoms that often accompany the disease. There is a formula called goshanjinkigan that Japanese doctors often prescribe to treat swollen legs, edema, and urinary problems. It's available in the US both as an imported (but relatively inexpensive) Japanese-FDA-certified herbal medication and as a make-it-yourself herbal tea.
- Both herbal medicine, dispensed by a trained herbalist, and acupuncture can help deal with nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy.
- Some women experience remission after drinking Essiac tea--but it's not a proven treatment for cancer, and it can cause diarrhea.
Readers may wonder why diet is not recommended for treating ovarian cancer. There is a lot of evidence that dietary choices coincide with reduced risk of ovarian and other cancers, but not a lot of evidence that changing diet helps very much once cancer has occurred. In advanced ovarian cancer, a bigger problem is cachexia, or protein wasting, and it may be a good idea to get nutrition any way you can. Something as simple as a kombu (seaweed) mineral broth may make a real difference in the way women feel .
It's absolutely, positively not helpful to go to Mexico and spend $4000 a week not to eat things. The writer of this answer worked with a doctor in Mexico City who treated ovarian cancer patients for free, with diet, but also with insulin therapy, magnetic beds, and lots of tender loving care. He had two women go into sustained (10-year) remission after reaching late stage 3. This doctor's secret, however, may have been that he genuinely cared for his patients, and spent hours with each of them each week.
Don't try to find an alternative to take the place of medicine. Complement the best medical care you can find with the most attentive personal care you can find.
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