Alternative Treatments and Breast Cancer
Western medicine has developed around a model that relies on outside intervention to treat illness or injury in the body. Using the best and most up-to-date in scientific research, technology, and methodology, this approach to healing has been highly successful in helping people cure diseases and extend their life spans.
However, this method of attacking disease has many critics, who emphasize the fact that western medicine has often focused too little on the important role that the overall health of the human body plays in the promotion of healing. While outside interventions in the form of medicines, for example, are certainly beneficial, it is ultimately the body that has to process those medicines so they can be utilized effectively. In reality, medicines and other forms of treatment interventions must work in cooperation with the body if agents of disorder and disease are to be overcome – and when it comes to actually restoring the body to good working order again after a disease has been successfully treated, the body must rely entirely on its own resources to accomplish that task.
The Proper Role of Alternative Treatments for Breast Cancer
Alternative treatments for breast cancer are supplements to the traditional regime of chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy that are normally prescribed in some combination for those diagnosed with this disease. These kinds of health-promoting activities and practices are designed to help the body return to optimal health and function with greater efficiency, which can be critically important when the body is being asked to resist the onslaught of a destructive condition like breast cancer.
The use of the work ‘alternative’ in connection to these methods of healing and health preservation is a bit imprecise in this instance, since these treatments are actually intended to complement traditional western medical-style interventions rather than replace them. It is true that occasionally people will decide to forgo the normal treatment protocol and rely entirely on alternative approaches to treat their breast cancer; however, it is important to understand that this course of action is recommended by neither oncologists nor responsible practitioners of alternative methods, who recognize the limits of complementary medicine. At the present time, there are no reputable, controlled studies that show alternative therapies or methods are capable of curing breast cancer without any other type of medical intervention.
Categories of Alternative Treatments
Alternative health treatments can be divided into four separate categories:
- Biological – nutritional therapy, herbal medicines, vitamin supplements, homeopathy
- Mind-body connection – meditation, music therapy, hypnosis, guided imagery, prayer
- Body manipulation – massage, chiropractic therapy, yoga
- Energy-based therapy – acupuncture, Reiki, Tai Chi
When breast cancer patients turn to alternative treatments, it is usually because they are looking for ways to relieve not only the symptoms of breast cancer, but also the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. They are also looking to improve the overall quality of their lives, which is what these activities and practices are designed to do for all who pursue them, regardless of any medical conditions a person may be struggling to overcome.
Some Alternative Methods for the Treatment of Breast Cancer
Many claim that alternative treatments are ignored by medical researchers. But in fact, alternative methods have been studied extensively in recent years, as medical science has been anxious to find out what if any benefits they may have in helping those afflicted with serious health conditions, including breast cancer. Some of the alternative treatments that have been most intensely studied in breast cancer patients (with benefits listed) include:
- Acupuncture – relieves fatigue, hot flashes, vomiting, nausea, and pain
- Aromatherapy – reduces anxiety, depression, nausea, and high blood pressure
- Yoga – lowers stress and fatigue, helps improve sleep and overall quality of life
- Guided imagery – temporarily increases immune system cell activity, reduces depression, improves
- Meditation – lowers stress and fatigue, improves mood, reduces blood pressure, improves sleep
- Tai chi – reduces stress, improves strength and flexibility
- Nutritional therapy – increases energy, reduces depression, improves sleep
There are other alternative therapies used by many breast cancer patients that as of yet have not shown the same kinds of positive effects in controlled studies. However, the nature of alternative treatments can sometimes make them difficult to test in combination with placebos, meaning that doctors and patients are left with nothing to rely on except anecdotal evidence. Contrary to the way it is often portrayed, medical scientists do not automatically dismiss personal testimony; they simply need to have more than that before they can make definitive statements about the effectiveness of any medical treatment.
The Promise and the Danger of the Alternative Path
The criticism that western medicine has been too focused on disease and not conscious enough of overall health is a valid and important one. Fortunately, this is a situation that is starting to change, and one manifestation of this is the fact that many medical professionals are now encouraging patients to try alternative health treatments or activities in addition to traditional treatments. This is good news for breast cancer patients, since alternative treatment methods are frequently inexpensive (especially in comparison to traditional treatments), involve activities that can actually be enjoyable, and help restore overall health even outside any positive effects they might have for the treatment of breast cancer.
It is unfortunate, however, that there are many out there who are exploiting the general public’s interest in alternative medicine by selling goods, services, substances, and advice that are of dubious reliability to say the least. For those who would like to investigate alternative methods, it is necessary to be extremely careful not to fall prey to con artists who are only out to make a profit by taking advantage of those who need help and are willing to consider any alternative that promises to provide it.