Should You Consider Integrative Medicine as Part of Your Cancer Treatment?


By Franz Gliederer, MD, MPH, & the pH health care professionals                            

Death rates from cancer have dropped in recent years. This is partly due to the availability of a wider variety of improved treatment options. However, cancer rates continue to rise. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease.

There are many reasons for the increasing number of new cancer cases. Many experts blame greater longevity (the longer you live, the more chance there is for you to develop cancer) as well as increased exposure to carcinogens in the environment. Other causes include viruses, chronic inflammation, genetic predispositions and hormone imbalances.

Cancer is reportedly caused by mutations of the DNA inside our cells, and these mutations disrupt the natural cell life cycle. Usually, our cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When those cells grow old or become damaged, they die and new cells take their place. However, when cancer develops, old and damaged cells survive and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells divide without stopping.

If you or someone you know is battling cancer, you may wonder if treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy or behavioral or nutritional therapy can make a difference in the outcome of their cancer treatment regimen or whether these can prevent the occurrence or return of cancer.

Collectively known as “integrative medicine,” these approaches may help improve your quality of life. How much improvement you may experience will vary and depend on the type of cancer you have and the type of treatments you are undergoing.

Unfortunately, no integrative approach has been conclusively shown to cure or prevent a reoccurrence of cancer. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), while integrative medicine may help alleviate some symptoms of cancer, there is not enough evidence that it can change the overall outcome of cancer treatment. But for many people battling cancer, improving their quality of life is just as important as taking steps to prolong it.

Benefits of Integrative Medicine and Cancer Treatment

While alternative medicine may not change the course of your cancer treatment, there is some evidence that including them in your regimen may help with certain symptoms associated with cancer treatment. Acupuncture, for example, can reduce cancer-related nausea or vomiting, while other studies have shown that massage therapy may reduce pain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, a type of meditation training, can help relieve anxiety, stress, fatigue and general mood and sleep disturbances. And yoga often helps improve the anxiety, depression, distress and stress that you may experience as you battle cancer.

Nutritional supplements can help with the nutritional deficiencies that you may experience because of the cancer itself. It may also help with changes in your appetite and other side effects you may experience from chemo or radiation therapy. Deficiencies in vitamins B1, B2, K, niacin, D; cachexia and low protein levels are the most common deficiencies you may face as a cancer patient.

While taking vitamin supplements during cancer therapy is quite popular, be sure to talk with your oncologist or healthcare provider before taking them, since some supplements may promote cancer growth and otherwise affect your treatment outcome. For example, antioxidants may inhibit or promote cancer growth depending on the amount you take. Studies have found that antioxidants taken in high doses may inadvertently increase the ability for certain cancer cells to multiply. High doses of beta carotenes increased lung cancer in smokers by 17%.  

Another reason to consult your healthcare provider before taking supplements is different doses of key vitamins can impact certain types of cancer differently. For example, while low doses of vitamins A, C and E may be associated with reduced gastric cancer risk, very high levels of the same vitamins increase it. Vitamin E can increase prostate cancer and colorectal cancers, but it also can reduce the toxicity of radiation therapy. Another study found that higher magnesium intake may reduce overall cancer rates in some cases. So, again, be sure to talk with your doctor not only about which supplements may be helpful in your battle against cancer but also about the amount of supplement that you should take.

And remember that one way to determine whether you're nutritionally balanced is to do nutritional testing.

Enjoy your healthy life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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