Cancer is a scary word and the diagnosis plunges patients into a search for the most effective treatments. Some gravitate toward modern medical treatments, some to alternative treatments, and some blend the best of both.
Recent studies point toward complementary treatments as having a very positive impact on the overall health and wellbeing of cancer patients. Clearly, there is a need and a place for complementary and alternative treatments (CAM) where cancer is concerned, whether aimed at a cure, temporary relief, or overall quality of life.
California's Dr. Moshe Lewis specializes in the treatment of pain and is an expert in complementary treatments. We asked Dr. Lewis if he thought cancer patients should ever forgo modern treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation in favor of alternative treatments.
"No, I believe patients should combine the best of traditional methods with alternative treatments to compliment the best of both and achieve the best care outcome for the patient. It is important to appreciate that testimonials are just that, another person's experience. There are times, given that a patient is de-conditioned from the stress of chemo and radiation, when it is time to pursue less toxic approaches. Before the development of modern, evidence-based treatments, 90 percent of cancer patients died within five years. With modern mainstream treatments, only 34 percent of cancer patients die within five years."
Asked if there are complementary treatments he would suggest to cancer patients in general, he replied, "I always recommend that patients check with their regular medical doctor and keep them informed of alternative treatments, vitamins and supplements they may be taking. Many supplements help to alleviate symptoms of cancer and side effects from mainstream treatments, such as anti-oxidants and natural anti-inflammatory agents. Diet-wise I like a vegan approach. A healthy dose of humor is always an excellent medication. Scientific proof of the health benefit of humor can be found as early as 1989 when the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study that showed that laughter therapy has an immediate symptom-relieving effect.
"Another thing to consider would be hypnotherapy, a mind over body strategy. Like meditation yoga and Tai Chi, the power of relaxation, deep breathing and channeling energy can't be overemphasized. Others to consider include Applied Kinesiology, an energetic testing technique that allows your body to pick the best treatment from a group, as well as Vitamin C. Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, investigated the possibility of using vitamin C for cancer."
Dr. Lewis also believes that healthy living is the best way to avoid cancer. That means no smoking, avoidance of exposure to second-hand smoke, no alcohol, and decreasing or eliminating red meat, smoked and barbecue products, and increasing fruits and vegetables. "For women, this means regular mammograms. For everyone over 50 this means swallowing your pride and going in for that colonoscopy for early detection of colon cancer. All young men and women should learn the testicle and breast self-exam. For everyone this means a regular physical. Early detection of cancer is critical, as we like to isolate the cancerous cells before they become malignant and infiltrate or spread to other parts of the body.
"The second component to combating cancer, or any disease for that matter, is to keep your body in the best possible condition. The healthier you are going into this, the better chance your body has at fighting off the rigors of cancer and treatment and thereby minimize complications along the way. This means keeping illicit drugs and heavy metals (like mercury) out. Sexual activity has to be with condoms to minimize the risk of transmitting dangerous viruses. Radiation exposure has to be eliminated. And there is concern about our drinking water and the use of pesticides, which is all fueling the organic movement."
As to what patients should do after being declared 'cancer free,' Dr. Lewis suggests you take that as a new lease on life. "Of course don't forget to follow your physician's advice religiously, including re-check and screening appointments and keep yourself as healthy as possible. Exercise daily and be wary of any changes in your lymph nodes or lab tests."
When asked if cancer patients should ever opt for alternative treatments in place of modern medicine, Debra Greene, PhD, Energy Health Specialist and author of Endless Energy: The Essential Guide to Energy Health answers in the affirmative. "I know that my perspective might seem unorthodox and that most people may not opt to follow it. However, I believe that alternative approaches should be used first and that conventional cancer treatments such as chemo, radiation and surgery should be kept as a last resort. Certainly when a cancer is nonaggressive or slow growing, such as prostate cancer, alternative treatments should be used over the more invasive conventional treatments.
"Alternative treatments include primarily three things: diet, emotional health, and really getting to know yourself. First, diet. Food truly is medicine (or poison). Basically, cancer cannot grow in an alkaline body. To put it succinctly, that means no meat, no wheat, no sweet, and no dairy. (The sweet refers to refined sugar.) This is basically the standard American diet; no wonder we have so much cancer! Drinking alkalinized water helps and you can also enhance your healing by using supplements (certain vitamins, minerals, and herbs specific to your condition). Following this way of eating helps prevent cancer from returning as well.
"Second, clean out negative or repressed emotions so you can feel more joy, love, and happiness. Releasing negative emotions plays an important role in restoring physical health, as does increasing your capacity for positive emotions. (Many people think this is easier said than done because they lack the tools and techniques to effectively deal with repressed or negative emotions. That's where my book comes in.)
"Third, really get to know yourself on a deeper level. This includes deepening your spirituality and trusting your intuition with regard to your health decisions.
"Endless energy refers to the invisible 'energy' aspects that greatly impact our health but that cannot be seen under a microscope. It refers to our emotions, thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, vitality, moods, and mindset, how these factors impact our health, and what we can do about them."
Alyssa Phillips, a survivor of cervical neuroendocrine cancer, one of the rarest and most aggressive types of cancer known, credits a combination of modern medicine and complementary treatments with giving her that new lease on life that Dr. Lewis referred to.
"By the time my cancer was diagnosed, traditional treatment was not only necessary, it was an emergency. But from the very beginning, even though I was a classically trained Physician Assistant and it went against everything I'd been taught, there was a deep knowing that the true healing was up to me and that this was a call to set out into uncharted waters in order to survive.
"So I dove into the 'other' side of medicine, I did prayers, affirmations, meditations, visualizations, emotional healing techniques. I began acupuncture, yoga and juicing. I explored energy medicine and ancient healing disciplines, knowing on a gut level that regular medicine could get me some of the way but not all the way to the other side of this ocean I'd been called to navigate. I began working closely with a clinical nutritionist who works with cancer patients, revamping my already healthy diet and starting an intensive nutraceutical regimen.
"All of these things I still do today and each of these were no doubt 'difference makers' that turned a less than one percent chance of survival into the life of my dreams now. Medicine has its place but, in the end, all true healing begins within."
Alyssa's story of survival and courage is truly an inspiring one.
Earlier this year, the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) unveiled a new online resource designed to give health care providers easy access to evidence-based information on complementary and alternative medicine.
Providers will now have the tools they need to learn about CAM practices and products so they can discuss them with patients. With Americans spending almost $35 billion in out-of-pocket CAM products and practices annually, and studies showing that many patients do not discuss CAM with their physicians, this is good news indeed. As we break down the barriers between modern medicine and CAM, we will all have better control over our health and wellbeing. Yes, we can have it both ways.
Sources: Dr. Moshe Lewis, MD MPH, Pain Management, Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Electromyography, Redwood City, CA; Alyssa Phillips, writer and speaker; Dr. Debra Greene, PhD, Energy Health Specialist and author of Endless Energy: The Essential Guide to Energy Health; National Institutes of Health
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author's Guild, a writes for sites around the web.
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Related reading: Paying for Complementary and Alternative Medicines