Too scared to try alternative cancer treatments?
July 20th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States in 2016.
Most of those people will be faced with the fight of their lives. Even an easy-to-treat early-stage cancer is a life-changing experience because it’s so frightening and raises the specter that “This could be it.”
If you receive such a diagnosis – and if you’re a Cancer Defeated reader – you know better than to trust a conventional cancer doctor’s motives – or knowledge. (We know many doctors stand to make a huge profit by pushing high-dose chemo drugs on cancer patients, see Issue #50. And of course they know nothing about the vast range of natural treatments.)
At the same time, many people feel it’s too risky to rely on alternative therapies alone. And even if you’re receptive to alternatives, family and friends probably aren’t, and they put you under intense pressure to do what the doctor says.
Thankfully, there’s a way to benefit from the best of both worlds – alternative and conventional. It’s an emerging branch of oncology that takes a holistic, “big picture” perspective on cancer, but is still rooted in mainstream medicine…
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Integrative oncology is a budding branch of medicine that combines natural, nontoxic and noninvasive treatments with mainstream chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. At its best, it takes the whole person — body, mind, spirit, emotions and lifestyle — into account.
A good integrative oncologist looks at cancer like a weed — not a bloodthirsty alien — and your body as the soil in which it grows. The aim of treatment is to make the “soil” inhospitable to the weed to stop it from growing and spreading.
While treating the cancer, integrative oncology also aims to support a person’s well-being and reduce the interruption to his or her life both during and after treatment.
Combine complementary and alternative treatments
For example, an integrative oncologist may refer her patient to Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners, such as an acupuncturist, as a complementary treatment with surgery or proton therapy.
Acupuncture has been shown to be an effective and safe treatment in managing cancer symptoms such as:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hot flushes
- Dry mouth1
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology showed that breast cancer patients who received six weeks of acupuncture treatment alongside usual care had significantly reduced fatigue, hospital anxiety and depression, and higher quality of life (including functional, emotional, and social well-being.)2
Acupuncture was shown to improve a patient’s quality of life. Given that happiness is so critical to recovery, that’s a big deal. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’d rather die than go through another round of chemo”?
Other complementary treatments an integrative oncologist might prescribe include techniques that strengthen the mind-body connection, such as:
- Guided imagery
- Stress reduction
- Tai Chi
Integrative oncology and nutrition
As a part of both treatment and cancer prevention, integrative oncologists also look at nutrition as an important part of the overall picture.
As a Cancer Defeated reader, you know that bad diet and lifestyle choices are major factors that increase cancer risk… and good choices are huge factors in beating cancer.
Thankfully, integrative oncologists know this too — and better than most conventional doctors.
Integrative oncologists recommend eating a plant-based diet of primarily organic fruits and vegetables and reducing animal fats, red meat, dairy, refined sugar and processed foods because of their tendency to cause inflammatory reactions in the body.
They often recommend you eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage because they have a chemopreventive effect in the body.3
Cancer patients often suffer from cachexia – a wasting away syndrome where the patient is literally starving to death. This leads conventional doctors to tell them to increase their calorie intake any way possible — such as by eating donuts, cream cheese and ice cream (Yikes!)
Integrative nutrition therapists guide the patient in restoring digestive health and preventing malnutrition. They provide personalized dietary recommendations that do not include sugar and processed foods. Sugar is jet fuel for cancer cells, and eating large amounts of it to “keep your weight up” is a terrible idea.
Integrative oncology: Beyond diet and exercise
Healthy eating patterns and gentle exercise are pretty much standard “complementary” treatments, but an integrative oncologist can help you take it to the next level.
Remember, integrative oncology is all about the whole person—and that means treating the mind, spirit, and emotions, too.
Other unconventional aspects of integrative may also include:
- Image enhancement, which can help reduce anxiety and body-image issues in those experiencing physical changes due to treatment
- Spiritual support for faith-based individuals, or anyone seeking spirituality
- Therapeutic laughter, usually practiced in a group session to harness the positive power of humor
- Animal-assisted therapy (aka pet therapy), where trained animals and their handlers visit patients as a way to reduce stress and provide distraction and comfort. Dogs are commonly used, but farm animals and dolphins can be trained therapy animals as well.
- Music and/or art therapy to boost mood and provide an emotional outlet, thereby reducing stress and giving the patient a means to express himself
Places to find integrative oncologists
There are numerous cancer treatment centers with integrative oncologists all across the country. A few examples include:
- The MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston
- Cancer Centers of America (locations in Chicago, Atlanta, Phoenix, Tulsa and Philadelphia)
- Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco
- Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Skokie, Illinois
The Society for Integrative Oncology has a directory of practitioners in the US; you may be able to find one near you. I recommend checking them out carefully and interviewing the doctor before making a commitment.
Integrative oncology has become trendy and no doubt there are plenty of old-fashioned cut-burn-and-poison doctors who will hang out the “integrative” shingle and tell you to eat a salad once in a while.
What would I do?
What would I do? What do I really think of this whole phenomenon? My preference is for a doctor – whether MD or naturopath – who’s wholly committed to alternatives. Sometimes surgery is necessary to reduce the size of the tumor, but after that, for me it’s off to a diet-exercise-supplement guy who offers things like hyperthermia, IV vitamin C, laetrile or mistletoe extract, ozone therapy, and infrared sauna. Such doctors will also employ low-dose chemo when appropriate, so don’t worry about that.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s chemo and radiation that are the adjunct therapies, not the other way around.
But I realize a newly diagnosed cancer patient is frightened and may not feel up to making a full leap into alternatives. For them, it’s a good thing we have growing numbers of integrative oncologists.