When talking about non-traditional cancer treatments, a lot of people tend to misuse the terms “complementary” and “alternative,” under the assumption that they mean the same thing. Although all non-conventional approaches to cancer cure are collectively referred to as CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) treatments, one of the first and very important facts that anybody interested in these therapies needs to know is that these two words refer to two distinct cancer treatment strategies.
In a nutshell, alternative cancer treatments are promoted and used in place of standard cancer treatments while complementary therapies are performed alongside or in addition to chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery etc. Complementary therapies seek to help patients cope with the side effects and stresses caused by traditional cancer cures – to ultimately improve the patient’s quality of life while battling the disease.
In some cases, the oncologist will personally recommend specific complementary therapies with conventional treatments. This is called integrative medicine – a holistic approach to cancer care that combines traditional methods with safe and effective CAM practices.
CAM encompasses a wide range of approaches, from herbal medicine and nutritional supplements to non-standard medical methods like aromatherapy, acupuncture, visualization, and music therapy – to name a few.
Reasons Why Cancer Patients Choose to Undergo CAM Treatments
Most people diagnosed with cancer will stop at nothing to overcome the disease.
While surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy are often the top three cancer treatment choices, many patients and their families are becoming apprehensive about the life-changing side effects of these conventional methods. Thus, more and more people are looking for less toxic cancer cures nowadays, and many of them are turning to complementary and alternative approaches.
Cancer patients use complementary and alternative therapies for a variety of reasons, but mainly for the following:
1. CAM treatments are natural and non-toxic alternatives to conventional cancer cures.
Going to therapies can be a very unpleasant experience for many cancer patients. Standard treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy can make a person very weak afterward and lead to a number of extremely stressful side effects like nausea, anxiety, and sleeping problems.
Complementary and alternative therapies are said to be “natural” cancer cures, thus, many believe that they’re less toxic than conventional therapies. Patients who don’t want to experience the negative symptoms associated with conventional cancer medicine often choose alternative methods over standard ones. Others add a complementary therapy or two to their chemo or radiation therapy to somehow relieve themselves of the aches and discomforts they feel following a treatment.
What makes CAM treatments very attractive to a lot of patients, though, is their focus on prevention and how to boost the immune system. Unlike conventional medicine that only intervenes when the person is already sick and diagnosed with the disease (or its side effects), CAM treatments lean towards taking proactive preventative measures that could possibly prevent the occurrence or reoccurrence of diseases.
2. These non-traditional remedies provide cancer patients a more holistic healing.
Stress plays a vital role in the survival and recovery of many cancer patients. In fact, a recent study found out that patients who go through high levels of stress while undergoing treatment have 32% less chance of winning against the disease. This further reinforces the belief that stress is linked to tumor growth in patients who already have cancer.
CAM practices are developed around the idea that cancer treatment should be more than just killing malignant cells in the body, but providing the patient with mental, emotional, and even spiritual support as well. It’s a unique approach to treatment that uses body, mind, and nature to promote a more holistic healing process.
Some of the most popular CAM treatments for cancer include:
Lifestyle approaches aim to improve the patients’ physical well-being by incorporating certain lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and regular exercise into their daily routine.
Touch therapies such as acupuncture, massage, and reflexology that relieve and alleviates physical pain and discomfort.
Mind and body therapies like meditation, hypnosis, and yoga exercises for near-immediate calm can improve patients’ mental state and help them manage stress.
Talking therapies provide patients with an avenue where they can freely share and open up their emotions. These therapies can be a one-on-one session with a counselor or a group session where people of similar experiences come together to support each other.
A lot of patients have been using CAM to address mental health, and their emotional and spiritual well-being as well. Some of these non-conventional methods have been lauded for helping patients cope with their treatments and reducing the side effects of conventional therapies.
Also, there’s growing concern that chemotherapy, among other conventional treatments, tends to diminish a cancer patient’s quality of life, especially at the end-of-life stage.
For people with late-stage/advanced cancer, resorting to alternative or complementary methods is often their last hope of regaining control of the disease when standard cures are no longer viable.
3. CAM practitioners offer patients much-needed mental and emotional support.
Many patients who support and use non-traditional treatments reveal that CAM therapies provide them with emotional support and help them stay positive and hopeful for the future.
When cancer patients go to a hospital, they usually get a few minutes with their doctors and then get shuffled from one room to another for tests and treatments. Physicians don’t have the luxury to spend extra time with their patients because of their usual busy schedules. CAM, on the other hand, practices a unique care philosophy where patients get more one-on-one time with their practitioners.
Thanks to CAM’s emphasis on holistic care, patients who undergo these non-standard therapies receive plenty of personal time and attention from their care providers. These touches, talk, and interaction times with therapists have helped cancer patients hurdle the stresses that come with being diagnosed with the disease and the treatments that ensued.
Is CAM the Right Decision?
CAM encompasses a wide variety of practices, which is why it’s often hard to tell which ones work and which ones don’t. While “talking therapies” and lifestyle approaches like exercising and maintaining a healthy diet are generally considered safe, the same cannot be said for other approaches. Some CAM therapies went through extensive and careful evaluation and were found to be both safe and effective, but many others have not.
Very little is known about certain CAM practices, which means they require more extensive studies and medical trials to verify their efficacy. Some therapies, botanicals, or dietary supplements may even work against your conventional treatment, so always take these alternative and complementary remedies with a grain of salt.
In the end, though, going for alternative or complementary approaches (or not) is a personal decision. You have the choice to proceed with or reject the mainstream treatments that your doctor recommends, take the alternative route, or combine conventional and complementary cures.
Whatever methods appeal best to you, always make informed decisions. Learn about the benefits and risk of each therapy, look for reliable scientific sources, and be sure to watch out for frauds and misleading claims before trying anything out.
Also, it would still be best to talk to your oncologist about your options. While your health care team cannot make you take or discard treatments against your will, they can educate you on the matter and warn you of possible contraindications that some CAM practices might have on your standard cancer treatments.
About the Author
Lauren Cole is the Content Marketing Strategist of Dayspring Cancer Clinic, an alternative cancer treatment center located in Scottsdale, Arizona. When not working and writing content, she enjoys gardening and reading books.