Friday, October 9, 2009

Answering a Reader's Question About Alternative Treatments

A statue of Asclepius. The Glypotek, Copenhagen.Image via Wikipedia
A reader writes:

Hi Selena!

Just wondering, what are the reasons or any evidence you have to warn people to be wary of alternative treatments?

My response:

I believe that your inquiry was about my post When You Have Cancer: Tips for Coping (part 2) and my advice:
Be very careful about alternative treatments for cancer, especially treatments that advocate the discontinuation of traditional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy
and radiation. In addition, talk to your doctor about any vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal products you may be taking, as they may cause serious side effects in combination with prescription medications and/or chemotherapy.

First, I want you to know that I use alternative treatments myself. As a consumer of these services, it is my understanding that their purpose is to enhance well-being and prevent the occurrence of diseases and illnesses. The alternative medicine practitioners that I see/have seen include chiropractors, acupuncturists, homeopaths, naturopaths, massage therapists and applied kinesiologists.

None of these professionals that I have seen claim that they can treat or cure specific illnesses. Rather, the treatments they provide work to enhance my health and support the medical treatments I receive for my health problems. It is my understanding that alternative treatments are like little boosts and subtle enhancements that work best for daily aches, pains and other discomforts (i.e. sub-clinical symptoms) that do not constitute a specific disease or medical diagnosis.

Secondly, there are few scientific studies that support the notion that alternative treatments can treat or cure diseases or illnesses. That is not to say that, one day, it won't be proven that some alternative approaches do help and could be beneficial. In fact, here in the United States, the National Institute of Health has created an entire section called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) which is devoted to the scientific study of alternative treatments in the hopes of finding ones that can make a difference in medical outcomes. You can read more about the work NCCAM does here.

Thirdly, being diagnosed with cancer is really about your doctor identifying a disease process that has reached a point where the body is unable to control it, combat it or manage it on its own. Simply stated, cancer is out-of-control cell growth that the body is unable to stop. The reality of cancer and other major illnesses and diseases is that they represent major dysfunctions in the body's normal processes. Using alternative medicine only to treat cancer is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a deep puncture wound: it's the wrong-sized treatment for the problem. When you have cancer, you don't need health enhancement, you need cancer eradication. 

That said, there are programs that can help cancer patients minimize side-effects and enhance well-being while undergoing cancer treatment that recommend the use of alternative treatments. One such program is at the UCLA Simms Mann Cancer Center; you will notice in the description that they provide complimentary medical services which do not take the place of traditional cancer treatments.

Finally, people with cancer are often the target of scams that prey on their hopes to find a cure. In the past, one popular yet useless treatment touted to cure cancer was laetrile. Recently on our local news, there was yet another story of cancer patients being taken advantage of, this time by a man who pretended to be a doctor, claimed he could cure cancer and a whole list of other diseases and sold patients expensive supplements.

I personally witnessed the tragedy of a young man diagnosed with cancer, so scared that he refused chemotherapy, who got progressively worse and eventually died because the alternative treatments he received in Mexico did nothing to stop the progression of his cancer. This young man's story touched my heart and my life; his example made it easy for me to say "Let's do this!" to my medical doctors when I was faced with my own cancer diagnosis and treatment for leukemia back in 1988.

Do you have a question about one of my posts? Want more information or clarification? Simply click the Contact Me link at the top of my blog and send me your questions. If you would like a reply, please include your email address.

Thank you for reading Oh My Aches and Pains!

DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. The views expressed in this post should not be construed as medical advice. Please talk to your medical professionals about whether alternative medicine is right for you, especially if you are being treated for any medical condition, illness or disease or taking any prescription medications.

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