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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Complementary Treatments for Breast Cancer

Can herbs, supplements, and botanicals help with breast cancer?

Antioxidants that have been studied to prevent or treat cancer include vitamins C and E and co-enzyme Q10. Studies have not shown that they are helpful.

Precautions: Talk with your doctor before taking any vitamin, mineral, or herbal supplements, especially in high doses. This includes garlic capsules, ginseng, ginkgo, soy, and valerian. Some of these supplements can affect cancer treatment. For example, St. John's wort, which is used for depression, can block certain cancer drugs. High doses of vitamin C, an antioxidant, can change the way chemotherapy and radiation affect your body.

Also, the safety, effectiveness, and manufacture of dietary supplements aren't regulated as strictly as prescription medications.

How might meditation, journaling, music therapy, and support groups help a woman with breast cancer?

Many complementary treatments are based on the idea that what you think, feel, and believe impact on your health. Meditation, journaling, music or art therapy, guided imagery, and joining a breast cancer support group all help you relax. They make you feel less alone and help create a positive mental and physical state. Many women also use healing prayers and affirmations -- perhaps the most popular form of mind-body medicine.

Talk with your doctor before trying alternative or complementary medicine for breast cancer.

Before using any complementary or alternative treatments for breast cancer, you need to become an informed patient. Ask your doctor these basic questions: 

  • What are the proven benefits of this complementary treatment?
  • What are the "anecdotal" benefits reported by patients but not officially studied, such as less stress or better sleep?
  • What are the risks, if any?
  • Can this form of complementary treatment interfere with my standard breast cancer care?

Most doctors will be glad you're talking openly about your interest in a complementary treatment rather than trying it without their knowledge. Increasingly, Western medical doctors are becoming good sources of information and can give referrals to local CAM practitioners they trust.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 09, 2015
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