Can Complementary Medicine Help Treat Cancer?
What Is Integrative Medicine? continued...
“If it comes from the quote-unquote complementary or alternative world, fine,” she says. “If it comes from the conventional world, fantastic. If it’s working, that’s what we’re really going for.”
Integrative medicine uses it all. It’s based in conventional medicine and aims to use other treatments if they help. For people with cancer, that means a mix of traditional treatments like radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy with practices that wouldn’t have been considered by traditional doctors even a few years ago:
- Meditation, relaxation, and stress relief
- Chiropractic care
- Dietary supplements
- Proper nutrition
These days it’s an accepted field of study and practice. The National Institutes of Health has a branch called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), and the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine & Health boasts more than 60 major academic medical centers and other organizations.
The public has caught on to the idea of these other therapies. Almost 60 million Americans spend more than $30 billion on out-of-pocket complementary medicines each year.
Integrative Medicine and Cancer
Treating cancer isn’t easy. It’s not a one-size-fits-all disease. It’s also a bit of a moving target.
“Every single cancer is very different, and every person who has a particular cancer is different, and a cancer is different in the same person over a period of time,” Lemanne says. In other words, your cancer changes over time and responds to different things as treatment goes on.
That means those battling it are constantly looking for new methods and new medicines. In one study, 65% of the people with cancer used some sort of complementary medicine.
Still, looking for something that helps and finding it are two different challenges.
Joanne Buzaglo, PhD, is the senior vice president of Research and Training at the Cancer Support Community in Washington, DC. She spends much of her time listening to what people with cancer want from the medical community. Mostly, she says, it’s about lifestyle choices.
“I can tell you where I really feel there’s some real gaps: eating and nutrition,” Buzaglo says. People really want some help around that. Another area where there isn’t enough support is cancer rehab and physical therapy and exercise.
“There’s a big emphasis on exercising, yet there’s very little support for it,” she says.