Alternative therapy for cancer

What is alternative therapy?

Alternative therapy (or alternative medication) is a non-conventional approach to healing. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are usually discussed together, but are actually two different therapy approaches:

  • Complementary medicine - any form of therapy used in combination with other alternative treatments or standard/conventional medicine. Complementary therapy usually serves to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
  • Alternative medicine - is used alone, without recommended standard treatment.

Some people use complementary treatments to relieve symptoms or side effects while undergoing standard/conventional treatment (such as pain relief during cancer treatment). Standard/conventional medicine refers to medical treatments that have been scientifically tested and found to be safe and effective. The standard/conventional treatments have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Other people may decide to pursue either complementary or alternative therapy. It is highly recommended that you consult your child's physician before beginning any treatment regime, as these treatments are not scientifically tested or proven.

What are the different types of CAM?

Many different fields make up the practice of complementary and alternative medicine. In addition, many components of one field may overlap with the components of another field (i.e., acupuncture). Examples of CAM include:

  • Traditional alternative medicine:
    This field includes the more mainstream and widely accepted forms of therapy, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and oriental practices. Traditional alternative medicine has been practiced for centuries worldwide. Traditional alternative medicine includes the following:
    • Acupuncture.
    • Ayurveda.
    • Homeopathy.
    • Naturopathy.
    • Chinese/oriental medicine.
  • Body:
    Touch has been used in medicine since the early days of medical care. Healing by touch is based on the idea that illness or injury located in one area of the body can affect all parts of the body. If, with manual manipulation, the other parts can be brought back to optimum health, the body can concentrate on healing at the site of injury or illness without distraction. Examples of body therapies include the following:
    • Chiropractic.
    • Massage.
    • Body movement.
    • Tai chi.
    • Yoga.
  • Diet and herbs:
    Over the centuries, man has gone from a simple diet consisting of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains, to a diet that often consists of foods rich in fats, oils and complex carbohydrates. Nutritional excess and nutritional deficiency have become problems in today's society, both leading to certain chronic diseases. Many dietary and herbal approaches attempt to balance the body's nutritional well-being. Dietary and herbal approaches include the following:
    • Dietary supplements.
    • Herbal medicine.
  • External energy:
    Some people believe external forces (energies) from objects or other sources directly affect a person's health. An example of external energy therapy is electromagnetic therapy.
  • Mind:
    Even standard/conventional medicine recognizes the power of the connection between mind and body. Studies have found that people heal better if they have good emotional and mental health. Therapies using the mind include the following:
    • Biofeedback.
    • Hypnosis.
  • Senses:
    Some people believe the senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste) can affect overall health. Therapies using senses include the following:
    • Art, dance and music.
    • Imaging.

Before considering CAM

Most complementary and alternative medicine fields are not standardized or controlled by any Western medical guidelines. Always consult with your child's physician before beginning any complementary or alternative medicine therapy, because some therapies may interfere with standard treatment.

Being an informed healthcare consumer when considering complementary or alternative medicine is important. Ways to gather information before starting any therapy include:

  • Consulting your child's physician.
  • Researching on the Internet.
  • Researching in the library (books, articles, and scientific journals).
  • Speaking with others who have tried the therapy.
  • Looking for controlled, scientific studies about the therapy, whenever possible.

What warning signs may indicate a fraudulent therapy?

According to the American Cancer Society, if a treatment has the following warning signs, it is better to avoid:

  • Treatment based on unproven theories.
  • Treatment that promises a cure.
  • Patient is told not to use standard/conventional medicine.
  • Treatment is a secret and can only be given by certain providers.
  • Treatment requires travel to another country.
  • Treatment providers discount standard/conventional medicine.
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