My daughter recently researched and wrote the following essay on Alternative or Integrative Therapies. She asked to share it on this forum,as she hopes her essay can provide helpful information for cancer patients and survivors.
Although there is a collectively large number of treatments for different types of cancer, there has been an inadequate amount of research spent on alternative, or integrative treatments to help control the side effects of standard cancer treatments. The fierceness of these side effects makes many cancer patients feel helpless and greatly diminishes their quality of life. Integrative treatments are beginning to find their way into conventional medicine in the western world, but primarily in large cancer centers. Patients who live and are treated in smaller communities often are unaware of these treatment possibilities. However, with the emergence of a new discipline in oncology, Integrative Oncology, that will hopefully be changing. Cancer patients are seeking and being referred to not only treatments for their cancer, but also treatments for their whole body and mind. Having options to help deal with these lingering, debilitating side effects can help restore some feeling control over their disease and their life.
There are many different alternative therapies available, in five major categories, or integrative modalities. Biologic Based Practices include herbal remedies, vitamins, dietary and nutritional supplements. While these are the most common choices of alternative therapies and many users of these therapies praise their effectiveness, it is one of the more controversial of the modalities. They tend to carry a more tangible risk of side effects because they actually have biological effects on the body. Studies of these supplements have shown inconsistent results, and there is concern for the lack of regulations for dosages, strengths and labeling. A common example of one agent of concern is St. John's-wort. While St. John's-wort is known to relieve mild to moderate depression, it can interfere with some anti-cancer drugs and blood thinners.
Mind and Body Techniques are another option. Meditation, guided imagery, and yoga are the more well known therapies in this category. Research is showing the value of yoga, especially during active treatment. A recent study reported that breast cancer patients claimed practicing yoga led to better short term quality of life with improvements in areas such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Expressive art therapies, such as music therapy and art therapy are proving to be effective alternatives as well. Prayer is other component to this area and is one of the most common complementary therapies practiced by patients.
Another area of concentration is Manipulative and Body Based Practices. Physical activity has long been recommended and studies have found that cancer patients who exercised both during and after treatment, as well as maintained a healthy body weight not only recovered faster and felt stronger, but also tended to live longer than patients who were sedentary. Massage therapy and reflexology also fall into this category.
Energy Therapies are a mysterious, though many claim, effective option. Magnetic field therapy, Qigong, Heal touch techniques and Reiki fall into this area. My mother, a 9 year survivor of recurrent, inoperable, incurable Neuro-fibro Sarcoma, has experienced the power of Reiki first hand. While not a scientific study, she participated in Reiki therapy, not having a clue what is was or what it was supposed to do. She saw such an immense reduction in her pain levels, she was able to discontinue using the narcotic pain relievers she had been relying on for 5 years. Additionally, she experienced a remarkable improvement in her pulmonary function and was able reduce her supplemental oxygen to 2 liters from 5 liters.
The last of the categories is Ancient Medical Systems. These include traditional Chinese medicine, ayurvedic medicine as well as acupuncture. There is much support for the use of acupuncture, which encompasses more than three hundred anatomical points, to provide relief from nausea and even pain. Some believe it will also prove effective in reducing other symptoms including fatigue. It has very few side effects and moderately priced and is becoming easier to access.
Many of these therapies have existed for centuries in other cultures and are just becoming acceptable in the western world. Some have even been consider folk remedies, but as the treatments and outcomes are being studied, many are in fact being found to have merit. Even those therapies which have not been thoroughly studied or proven are seen as helpful to those that use them (possible placebo effect), they should be afforded the opportunity to use them. After watching both of my parents, as well as other family members and friends go through cancer treatments including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and seeing the brutality of these treatments, it is clear that better treatments for side effects, and better accessibility for anyone who may need, is crucial. Many people with cancer (and other diseases) have a very poor quality of life. Anything that can be done to improve their situation should be made available. It is also imperative that not only oncologists, but all doctors, be educated in the benefits of these alternative treatments.
With the new frontier of Integrative Oncology, there will undoubtedly be an increase of awareness of the array of alternative therapies. Along with this awareness, there needs to be a great increase in the ease of accessibility for all patients, not just for those living near or with access to large cancer centers. There is already an increase in demand for alternative therapies. Nine percent of cancer patients used alternative therapy in 1992, according to one estimate. That number has risen to forty percent in U.S. adults, and is even higher among people with cancer. When prayer was included, recent studies indicate participation in these integrative therapies is nearly 90 percent.
It stands to reason that this increase in awareness and demand would lead more scientists to investigate and study the effectiveness of these therapies. This research would lead to a better understanding of the how, why, when and even when not to use these therapies. Although the big drug companies may be reluctant to spend their research budgets studying these therapies, it seems that cancer institutes, along with those in our universities might pursue studies in this area. This would give physicians an additional tool to not only treat their patients' disease, but treat their whole body and mind, thus improving their quality of life. In addition, documentation of the effectiveness of these treatments may lead to more insurance companies accepting them as reasonable treatment alternatives and may begin covering the costs of these treatments. The cost of these treatments can prove to be a financial burden to many, on top of the already astronomical costs of treating their disease. The financial burden alone will prevent many from experiencing the benefits of these therapies, even if they have access to practitioners. Funding for research for alternative therapies as well as for standard therapies needs to be increased dramatically. Our government spends millions on medical research, but much of those monies could be better spent, such as $400,000 to study habits of male prostitutes in Vietnam, and $800,000 to study the effects of a "genital washing program" on men in South Africa. Various sources report a boggling amount of money spent on questionable topics including $615,000 grant for digitizing Grateful Dead Photos, $3 million researching the video game "World of Warcraft", $60 billion for Medicare and Medicaid fraud, $25 billion maintaining empty buildings, $100 million on unused, refundable airline tickets that were not refunded, $500,000 to paint a salmon on an airplane, over $1 billion to ship 2 washers from South Carolina to Texas and Florida (I would gladly have hand delivered them for a fraction of that.), $100s of millions in late penalties on employee travel cards, and $146 million on flight upgrades for employees. Questionably, the small of amount of funding for studying the benefits of alternative therapies has been noted as wasteful by some organizations. This frivolous spending and waste should be redirected to fund research to cure cancer as well as other diseases such as epilepsy, another life threatening disease affecting 2.8 million people in the U.S. alone., and diabetes. If drug companies are reluctant to invest in the costly process of creating new cancer drugs for fear of re-cooping those costs, it would be money well spent if our government was willing to invest there.
Family members of mine have suffered from many types of cancer, including Neuro-fibro Sarcoma, Melanoma, breast cancers, prostate cancer, small cell and non-small cell lung cancer, Hodgkins Lymphoma, and Glioblastoma. Family friends have suffered from many cancers as well, including lung cancers, skin cancers, breast cancers, liver and kidney cancer, bile duct cancer, stomach cancer, leukemia, colon cancer, Ewing sarcoma, cancers of the brain, and mesothelioma. All of these people, along with other cancer victims could have benefitted from alternative therapies. (For more information on mesothelioma, please go to http://www.survivingmesothelioma.com
The true impact that alternative therapies could have on people with cancer as well as other diseases is unknown, but is certainly worth investigating. The lives of millions could be positively impacted by markedly increasing their quality of life. Analysis, awareness and accessibility are the keys.