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Dealing With Cancer

Can alternatives help?
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In Search of a Cure continued...

One worry is that unscrupulous purveyors of quack medicine are taking advantage of patients' desperation. Another is that some patients, enamored of these so-called "natural" approaches, will forgo conventional treatments that could help them.

Still, some mainstream experts think that alternative approaches could actually help fight cancer. Spiegel has shown that support groups can help women with breast cancer survive longer, for instance. And new research is underway to put other approaches to the test. One of the fastest-growing areas of research at the NCI is in mind-body medicine, according to White. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health) has begun testing a variety of alternative cancer treatments, from shark cartilage to Chinese herbs (see Alternative Cancer Therapies Go Mainstream).

"What's really exciting is the merging of Western medicine with other, more traditional forms of healing, such as acupuncture and Chinese herbs," says Strang Cancer Prevention Center researcher George Wong, PhD. We're finally beginning to understand that there are many ways to approach a disease like cancer -- and to help patients."

As for Nick Steiner, the New Jersey physician knew that there was no scientific proof that Chinese herbs could slow the growth of cancer. But he was also willing to put his trust in a system of healing that had evolved over thousands of years. And he liked the multifaceted approach that Wong offered, which included both herbs to help fight the tumors and herbs that might strengthen his immune system and boost his energy.

Since 1997, he has been boiling up a pot of a dozen Chinese herbs and drinking the brew five times a week -- and during that time his cancer has been in remission. "I know there's no way I can prove that the herbs are the reason I'm still alive," he says. "But I'm convinced they are. And I'm more convinced than ever that alternative treatments like this should be made available to all cancer patients."

Peter Jaret is a freelance writer based in Petaluma, Calif. His work has appeared in Health, Hippocrates, National Geographic, and many other publications.

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