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How to Find the Best Cancer Treatment

Get answers to 10 commonly asked questions about clinical trials, where to get cancer treatment, and more.

Should I use an herbal remedy that I've heard about to help with my cancer treatment? It's natural, so it can't do any harm, right?

Never use an herbal or botanical remedy, or other "natural" supplement, while undergoing cancer treatment without talking to your doctor. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it has no side effects, and some herbs and botanical remedies have been documented to have negative interactions with cancer treatments. For example, St. John's wort, often taken for depression, can reduce the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs. Many herbs and supplements can also interfere with normal clotting, which means they shouldn't be taken if you're soon to undergo surgery.

It's not that complementary medicine is off limits. In fact, some complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, have been embraced for cancer patients. But the rule of thumb is to tell your doctor about anything and everything you're doing in response to your cancer, whether it requires a prescription or not.

Besides my surgeon and oncologists, who should be on my cancer care team?

One very important set of people who will definitely be on your team are the oncology nurses. These are the people who will spend the most time with you, who will actually administer your chemotherapy (if you get it), and who will monitor your side effects and answer a lot of your questions. Get to know your nurses. "They're your first line of defense," Lichtenfeld says.

Nutritionists can also play a key role for the person with cancer. "Cancer treatment can debilitate your body, and you need to be eating a healthy diet to give you the strength you need to deal with the side effects and fight the cancer," Lichtenfeld says. A good nutritionist with experience dealing with cancer patients can advise you, for example, on what foods you might be able to keep down during chemotherapy, or what kind of foods can help with a low white blood cell count.

Many cancer centers and hospitals with larger cancer programs will also have psychiatrists, psychologists, and/or social workers on site. Take advantage of the help these people offer -- and seek them out if your hospital doesn't have them. "Emotional support is critically important for anyone going through a trauma, and a cancer diagnosis is a trauma," Saltz says.

Other helpful professionals might include massage therapists or yoga teachers. "Relaxation tools are great for people dealing with cancer. Anything that helps you cope is good, so I'm 100% in favor of things like massage therapy and meditation," Saltz says.

Well-meaning people want to give me advice about what kind of treatment I should have, or tell me their own cancer stories. What should I do?

"Everybody in the world, once they hear you have a cancer diagnosis, will immediately want to share an anecdote with you. It may be the most upsetting story in the world, and you can't figure out why they're torturing you," Saltz says. "Or they'll send you articles from everywhere ranging from The New England Journal of Medicine to the National Enquirer. Just tell them, 'Thanks, but I've got my team together and I'll follow their guidance.' If you want to commiserate and share stories with someone, fine, but if it's upsetting, just say, 'Thanks, I'm going to stop you right there. Lots of people tell me cancer stories and I don't find them helpful.'"

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Reviewed on February 01, 2010

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