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Mind-Body Medicine for Cancer

Using mind-body techniques can enhance your quality of life, lessen pain, and may extend your longevity, say proponents.

Encouraging the Practice

Other conventional medical institutions also see the value of mind-body medicine for their cancer patients and are offering it as an adjunct to conventional cancer therapies. Five years ago, Jupiter Medical Center in Jupiter, Fla., opened its Mind-Body Institute. According to medical director Mark Gocke, MD, the hospital wanted to provide complementary care in a hospital setting to patients who wanted to use such therapies in conjunction with conventional care. Patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, and even those recovering from surgery, can take advantage of various complementary options such as acupuncture (recommended by the National Institutes of Health as a safe and often effective treatment for chemo-related nausea), music therapy, nutritional classes, massage, stress reduction, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, Reiki, acupressure, and deep-tissue massage.

"You don't want to ignore any modality that can help, whether conventional or complementary," says Gocke. But, he cautions, complementary therapies are not a replacement for conventional treatment. "If stress-reduction techniques allow you to tolerate chemotherapy better, you're enhancing that treatment. Even if it's just a fraction, that's better than nothing at all."

At the Swedish Cancer Institute in Seattle, staff members, as well as cancer patients and their families, are encouraged to take advantage of mind-body therapies. "The staff faces tremendous challenges," says John D. Wynn, MD, medical director for psycho-oncology at Swedish and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine. "The more we can support our staff, the more we can inspire our patients."

Wynn, who says he's a "great believer" in hope and resilience, recommends that people with cancer remain "attuned" to themselves. "You need a continuity of self through the cancer experience," he says.

"What did you like to do before you had cancer?" Wynn asks. To the extent that you can, continue doing what you enjoyed. "This is a valid part of your treatment."

Explore what you enjoy and feel good doing, says Katherine Puckett. Try to make time every day to do those things. "Even just 10 minutes a day can have positive physical effects."

The Spiritual Connection

Don't neglect the spiritual aspect of your healing either, says Frederick Smith, MD, senior associate chief of the division of general internal medicine at North Shore University Hospital/Manhasset in New York. Smith believes so strongly in the connection between spirituality and health that he established a course for medical residents on religion in medicine; as part of that course, the residents accompanied Smith on visits to churches, synagogues, mosques, and Buddhist temples.

"When you see the basic goodness and reverence of people in prayer, you can't help but be affected," says Smith, who adds that he is not advocating that health-care providers try to persuade their patients with cancer to become religious if they haven't been before. "What is important, though, is that we be sensitive to any spiritual needs our patients may have. Sometimes spiritual suffering might be even more painful than the patient's physical suffering."

Finally, don't be confused or overwhelmed by the variety of treatments that come under the heading of mind-body medicine. There is no one recommended mind-body technique. "There is an array of therapies because there is an array of patients," says Wynn.

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Reviewed on April 17, 2009
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