Complementary and alternative medicine

Complementary medicine is used to describe therapeutic techniques that are not part of conventional medicine (also called “regular,” “standard,” or “mainstream” medicine). Complementary therapies are used as a “complement” or addition to conventional medicine. Because complementary medicine can be combined or integrated with conventional medical treatment, it is also called “integrative medicine.”
Conventional medicine has been proven to be safe and effective by numerous scientific studies. While some studies show that women diagnosed with breast cancer can get benefits from complementary medicine, it’s important to know that complementary therapies usually don’t undergo the same kinds of rigorous testing as conventional medicine.

How Does Complementary Medicine Work?

Complementary medicine includes techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, support groups, and yoga. Sometimes called holistic medicine, complementary medicine typically addresses how disease affects the whole person: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.
Complementary medicine focuses on the interactions between your mind, your body, and your behavior.
Research has shown that your emotional state, both good and not so good, affects your immune system’s ability to fight off disease. In one study, people with higher stress levels or more negative moods who were exposed to a cold virus came down with worse colds than people who were less stressed or had more positive moods.
Several studies on people with various types of cancer suggest that complementary medicine can improve mood, quality of life, and coping. This stress relief might help your immune system function better and allow you to better cope with treatment-related side effects.
People who practice meditation or yoga or have acupuncture say that their bodies and their brains are engaged. New studies are helping researchers understand the connection between mind and body. In one study, meditation was associated with a better immune system response to a vaccine.

The difference between complementary medicine and alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is not the same as complementary medicine. Complementary medicine is used with conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is used insted of conventional medicine.
It might help you to add yoga, tai chi, or massage to your regular treatment plan. But you should never replace any part of your regular treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal treatment) with something else. Therefore, breastcancer.org does not recommend alternative medicine.

Are alternative medicine safe and effective for breast cancer patients?

Definitions of alternative medicine vary but can include relaxation, massage, megavitamins, spiritual healing, folk remedies, herbal medicines, chiropractic, lifestyle and commercial diets, energy healing, homeopathy, hypnosis, biofeedback, and self-prayer.
The theory supporting certain diets reducing cancer risk has been expanded to include cancer cures. Macrobiotic diets are popular and focus on the interplay of food, lifestyle, environment, and the individual to create health/disease. Orthomolecular medicine focuses on high dose vitamins and selected nutrients to aid the body’s immune system. Studies did not show any superiority of vitamin C consumption to placebo.
Individual practitioners develop metabolic therapies. These treatments are combinations of diet, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and detoxification regimens that aim to correct physiological imbalances. For example, some regimens consists of hourly consumption of crushed fruits and vegetables, and coffee enemas are used to remove dead cells and toxins. Patients also receive nutritional supplements. Detoxification regimens are also available in health food stores and books. These regimens utilize laxatives that can be dangerous when taken regularly.
Women are high consumers of alternative or complementary therapies and thus breast cancer patients are particularly prone to purchasing such remedies. Many of these remedies are based on folklore and have not yet been scrutinized to the scientific rigor that is required for approval of drug therapies.
In one study, the prevalence of use of alternative therapies by breast cancer patients was greatest in women with higher educational attainment and income.The key public health issues arising from consumption of such remedies relate to the potential for interactions of supplements with current drug therapy ,the potential adverse effects associated with consumption, particularly at high doses the concurrent use of several alternative therapies, the costs of such therapies, and the lack of disclosure of such treatments by the patient to their doctor
Breast cancer patients are attracted to ‘natural’ or alternative therapies because of the perception that they are less toxic than conventional prescribed medicines. Although recent reports on the potential adverse effects and drug interactions resulting from consumption of some natural products may have raised awareness within the medical community of the need for appropriate clinical trials to address the ratio of risk to benefit for these preparations, this information is unlikely to have filtered through to staff and purchasers from health food shops.
Breast cancer patients, along with the public in general, remain unaware that most of the herbal remedies and alternative natural preparations available have not been robustly tested in carefully designed clinical studies. Natural extracts are complex mixtures, and stringent regulations on quality assurance, which apply to drug therapies, are not currently enforced. For most of these products, we still do not know whether they work, and studies are required to define whether they are effective and safe and, if so, what dose is required for such an effect. Until such evidence-based data is available, their use merits caution, particularly in vulnerable breast cancer patients.

Sources: Breast Cancer, Cure Zone, Med UCLA .

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