Considering an Alternative or Complementary Therapy?

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When first diagnosed with breast cancer, some of us are so frightened about going through the standard care regimens of surgery, chemotherapy, and /or radiation we consider checking out alternative therapies that won’t take a breast, cause hair loss, or expose us to radiation.

We begin to search the Internet and find that there are listings for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. Unfortunately, these two therapies lumped together are misleading.

Alternative therapy refers to treatments used to treat cancer that are not part of standard care. They do not have a proven track record of success as those therapies used by cancer specialists in mainstream medical practice.

Desperate people do desperate things. Alternative treatment plans that promise dietary supplements, vitamins, herbs, exercise, and other substances can successfully take the place of surgery, chemo and radiation in treating can be very appealing.

Complementary therapy, unlike alternative therapy, is used in addition to mainstream medical treatments. Much emphasis is put on treating cancer in a way that involves your body, mind and spirit. It includes using vitamins, and therapies such as  massage and acupuncture.

Before you choose to follow an alternative medicine regime as your breast cancer treatment, or augment your current treatment with complementary medicine, please consider what the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has to say on the subject:

    Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) describes medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. Standard care is what medical personnel practice. Alternative medicine means treatments other than the standard, accepted treatments and used instead of standard treatments. Complementary medicine means treatments that are not standard, and used along with standard ones.

The NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine does not recommend using alternative medicines as a treatment for breast cancer, and asks that you consider the following before choosing to take complementary treatments in addition standard breast cancer treatments:

  •     A natural product does not mean a safe product.
  •     Dietary supplements such as herbs and vitamins may affect how well other medicines      such as chemo and hormone therapy work in your body.
  •     Herbal supplements can behave like drugs in your body.
  •     Vitamins can also have an impact by creating a strong action in your body.

Be sure you make your doctor aware of any dietary supplements you are taking, no matter how safe you think may think they are. The ads promoting these supplements may say they have been safely used for years. However, that doesn't prove that these supplements are safe or effective for you to use while undergoing treatment. Did you know that supplements do not have to be approved by the Federal government before being sold to the public?

You can purchase supplements without a prescription, which means no one is making sure of their safety or effectiveness.

While many web sites are good resources for CAM information, some may be unreliable or misleading. Be sure to check out who runs and pays for the site as well as the credentials of the person or persons giving out information on the site.

A safe way of finding trustworthy articles about complementary medicine is to ask your librarian to help you look for medical journals, books, and other research done by experts on using complementary medicine during breast cancer treatment. Don't rely on articles you find in popular magazines, as they are usually not written by experts.

For more information about Complementary and Alternative Medicine, visit: NIH: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, www. nccam.nih.gov.

Before you consider using an alternative or complementary therapy program, speak to your physician. Reach out for counseling in managing your fears related to treatment. Don’t sacrifice your chances for successful treatment with mainstream proven treatments provided by Board Certified Medical Professionals.

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