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Traditional vs. Alternative

When you’re faced with fighting cancer, it’s natural to seek the best possible treatment available. For many people, this quest leads to an interest in unconventional therapies, like acupuncture, massage, special diets and nutritional supplements. Although few cancer experts would approve of using such remedies in place of standard treatment, doctors are increasingly helping patients add methods such as performing yoga, meditating and drinking peppermint tea to their treatment plan. This practice is known as complementary, or integrative, medicine.

Researchers have found that many nontraditional therapies can help ease side effects from cancer and its standard treatments, such as pain, nausea, weakness, stress, depression and anxiety. To benefit from the best of both worlds, follow these steps.

  1. Do your research. Investigate a potential therapy and gather as much information as you can. Look beyond the product’s promotions and seek credible health sources and scientific journals to learn about the potential benefits and risks. Remember, standard cancer protocols, such as surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy and other conventional treatments, have undergone rigorous scientific study and proved effective against cancer.
  2. Talk with your healthcare team. If you’re considering trying a complementary treatment, first ask your healthcare team for advice. Share with your doctor or nurse any information you’ve found about an alternative method. You and your healthcare team must guarantee that the treatment you’re considering won’t interfere with or delay your medical treatment.
  3. Ask questions. Write down any questions about the therapy and bring them with you to your next appointment. Consider bringing a friend or family member along to help you take notes and weigh decisions.
  4. Ask for help. If the complementary treatment could interfere with your standard cancer therapy, ask your physician for safer options. Many conventional therapies can help relieve or control side effects, too.
  5. Be honest about your supplements. Make a list of any supplements, vitamins, herbs or other nutrients you take and discuss it with your doctor, pharmacist or nurse. Some seemingly harmless supplements may interact with medications or interfere with how a standard treatment works. For example, vitamin C megadoses may interfere with chemotherapy and radiation treatments. And St. John’s wort, an herbal supplement taken for depression, changes how chemotherapy and other drugs are metabolized in the body.
  6. Stick to your prescribed treatment plan. Don’t postpone or skip any treatments your oncologist has planned for you. Your therapy schedule is important to the treatment’s effectiveness. Talk to your doctor if symptoms or side effects are making it difficult for you to stay on schedule.
  7. Work with your healthcare team. Let your doctor or nurse know why you want to explore other options. Are side effects of standard treatments becoming intolerable? Do you wish to feel more in control of your care? Are you looking to enjoy a better quality of life? Have your treatment goals changed? Speaking candidly can help your providers guide you to the best possible therapies.

Fraud Watch

Be wary of any treatment, says the American Cancer Society, if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Is the treatment based on an unproven theory?
  • Does the treatment promise a cure for all cancers?
  • Are you advised to stop your standard medical treatment?
  • Is this remedy a “secret” that only certain providers can give?
  • Must you travel to another country to receive the treatment?
  • Do the promoters attack the medical or scientific community?
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