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An Overview of Complementary Therapies

Posted 12/12/2016

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  This is not exactly new information for many of you, but I think it is periodically worth reviewing what we know about complementary therapies. Often referred to as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine), the landscape is large and sometimes confusing.

  Let's begin by noting that complementary means something different than alternative. While respecting each person's right to make a personal choice, I am always horrified when I hear stories of someone who rejects western cancer care in favor of alternatives: diets, massages, supplements, etc. From my perspective, the much wiser position is to:

1. Discuss your thoughts with your doctor. Be prepared for your doctor (s) to not know too much about these treatments and, perhaps, to be dismissive. It is important, however, to ascertain that something you are considering will not interfere with other treatment that you are getting. As in, it is pretty dumb to take a supplement that is known to interfere with the efficacy of a chemotherapy drug you are receiving.

2. If you decide to add some CAM to your life, tell all your practitioners everything you are doing. Your acupuncturist should be aware of your chemo or radiation.

3. Consider not using any treatments that involve ingesting something until your active cancer treatment is done. At that point, it is more likely that your oncologist will be supportive and not concerned.

From Cancer Net:

Types of Complementary Therapies

People living with cancer may consider using complementary therapy in addition to standard treatments. Many people do this to reduce the side effects of cancer treatment and improve their physical and emotional well-being. Such approaches may also help improve recovery from cancer. However, talk with your health care team before adding complementary therapies to conventional medicine. They can help you add the right options for you in a deliberate and safe manner. This approach is called integrative medicine.

Read more:

Since most of the controversy is related to diets, herbs, supplements, etc., you may find this helpful:

Dietary and Herbal Products

People living with cancer may consider taking dietary and herbal products, also called supplements. Many hope that these products boost health, improve nutrition, or reduce treatment side effects. It’s important to discuss the possible benefits and risks of specific products with your doctor before taking them. There are two different types of products:
Dietary products have one or more dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, amino acids, and hormones. People do not need a prescription to purchase these in pharmacies, grocery stores, health food stores, and over the Internet. These products come in many forms, such as pills, capsules, tablets, liquids, creams, or powders.
Herbal and botanicals products contain plants or ingredients from plants. These also come in several forms,
such as tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, and tea bags.

Read more:


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