Alternative Cancer Treatment

by Ross Bonander

Alternative cancer treatments fall under the umbrella of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), and they include a diverse and often-changing set of cancer treatments that are not regarded as aspects of conventional or western medicine. However, alternative treatments are not the same as complementary treatments; alternative cancer treatments are those treatments used 'instead of' or 'in place of' conventional treatments, while complementary treatments are those used in conjunction with conventional treatments.

However, in this entry we shall consider CAM cancer treatments as a whole and mention when and where certain treatments have been used in a complementary setting.

Alternative cancer treatments are extremely popular with cancer patients; estimates regarding how many such patients use them ranges from 10% all the way up to 75%, depending on the definitions used.

Therapeutic approaches of alternative cancer treatment

There are five broad categories under which the therapeutic approach of alternative cancer treatments are classified:

1. Biological Approaches
Herbal remedies (green tea, antioxidants)
Vitamins (i.e. megavitamin therapy)
Special diets (i.e. macrobiotics)
Dietary supplements
2. Mind-Body Approaches
Tai chi
Relaxation techniques
Guided imagery
Music therapy
Art therapy
Prayer and mental healing
3. Body-Based Approaches
4. Energy-Based Approaches
Healing Touch
Qi Gong
Magnetic Field Therapy
5. Ancient Approaches
Traditional Chinese medicine
Ayurvedic medicine

Reasons for turning to alternative cancer treatment

Research suggests there are five primary reasons why cancer patients turn away from conventional cancer treatment and towards alternative treatments, according to the Society for Integrative Oncology:

  1. Anger and Fear. The health care system, the grueling aspect of modern treatments, may breed anger and fear in cancer patients.
  2. Lack of Control. Alternative treatments tend to put more perceived control in the patient's hands.
  3. Belief in a Cure. Positive belief systems may appeal to patients especially in the wake of negative attitudes among conventional doctors, especially concerning prognosis.
  4. Social Associations. Friends and family may encourage alternative treatments.
  5. Mysticism. Unfamiliarity lends itself to higher expected benefits.

What it's effective for and why

There is no scientific, peer-reviewed evidence that any of the best-known alternative cancer treatments are effective in fighting cancer, in particular as a first-line therapy. However, there is some evidence that some forms of CAM, such as relaxation techniques and massage therapy may be effective in helping cancer patients cope when used in a complementary setting with conventional treatments. Patients are encouraged to discuss these potential complementary treatments with their doctor or oncology team. They are discouraged from undergoing any treatment modality while concurrently undergoing conventional therapy without first discussing it with their doctor or oncology team.

Ultimately, cancer patients of consenting age have the unique right to pursue whichever treatment or treatments they feel offers them the best chance of beating their disease.


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