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Thinking about CAM

Posted 4/3/2015

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  As you likely know, CAM= complementary and alternative therapies. Almost all cancer patients at least consider one or more of these therapies, and it can be difficult to identify a good practitioner and to get honest advice or information. Just so my strong feeling (bias, some might say) is out there: Although I fully support any person's right to make decisions for him or herself, I cringe when someone refuses standard western evidence-based treatment in favor of alternative care. Note that I said "alternative"; by definition, "alternative" means instead of. Complementary therapies, on the other hand, are those used in conjunction with standard care.

  Virtually all oncologists support the use of complementary therapies, especially those that are external to the body. By this I mean acupuncture or Reiki or massage. There is concern about anything that you ingest while you are on active treatment. For example, there is some evidence that anti-oxidant vitamins in doses beyond those in multi-vitamins can interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. The bottom line here is this: PLEASE talk with your doctor about whatever else you are doing. You may be frustrated by his/her lack of knowledge or indifference to these therapies, but it is really important to fully disclose your plans.

  These are two good short articles from ASCO's Cancer Net. One is a brief explanation of CAM and the second gives suggestions on how to think about or evalutate them.

About Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2015
Key Messages:
Complementary therapies help patients cope with pain, fatigue, anxiety, and other side effects of cancer and
its treatment. These therapies do not treat cancer, but patients may receive these therapies along with
standard cancer treatments.
Complementary therapies include physical activity, acupuncture, massage therapy, music therapy, and
nutrition counseling.
Alternative therapies are those that some people promote instead of standard cancer treatment. These
therapies do not effectively treat cancer.
Avoid alternatives. Use the complementary therapies available through your oncologist or at a nearby
National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Integrative medicine is a combination of medical treatments for cancer and complementary therapies to cope with the symptoms and side effects. You may sometimes hear integrative medicine called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). However, there are no true “alternatives” to cancer treatment.
About complementary therapy
Complementary therapies help manage symptoms and side effects and are given along with standard cancer
treatment. They may help patients cope with the side effects of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and other standard cancer treatments.
About alternative medicine
Alternative medicine or alternative therapies are those that some people promote for use instead of standard
medical treatment. Eating or avoiding specific foods instead of having chemotherapy is an example of an alternative therapy. Generally, alternative therapies are bogus, disproved, or unstudied methods that have no role in cancer care.

Read more: About%20Complementary%20and%20Alternative%20Therapies

And here is the second article:

Evaluating Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2015

Key Messages:
Ask specific questions to find out about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies.
Talk with your doctor before using any complementary therapies. Do not use any alternative therapies.
Many people with cancer have questions about the methods and products used as complementary therapies. However, before you begin any complementary therapy, discuss all treatment options with your doctor. It is important to make sure the complementary therapy works well with your cancer treatment plan.
Some complementary therapies have research supporting their safety and effectiveness when used with standard cancer treatment. Alternative therapies, on the other hand, do not work, are often costly, and may be harmful. How are some ways to know?
First, find out who is recommending this therapy. If there are only people's personal stories and no trustworthy research, the treatment probably does not treat cancer. If news or ads about a therapy appear in mass media, but not in scientific journals, it is unlikely to help treat cancer. Learn more about evaluating cancer information on the Internet. If a treatment promises to cure all cancers, the ad is a fraud. There are more than 100 different types of cancer. No one treatment will work for every person or for every type of cancer.

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