Herbs, Massage or Hypnosis? Cancer Patients Get Advice
Source: Wall Street Journal
In a supplement published in the medical journal Chest, the American College of Chest Physicians offered the first comprehensive analysis on the use of alternative and complementary medicine in the treatment of lung cancer. The researchers examined over 100 published studies regarding alternative or complementary medicine in an attempt to quantify the benefits and to identify the problems regarding these modalities. Federal studies have shown that more than half of all Americans have used some type of alternative therapy in their lives and that number increases when cancer is involved. Historically, most doctors have not had the knowledge of these treatments to discuss them with their patients, so the publication of these guidelines represents a genuine advancement in the knowledge of cancer treatment.
The report showed that herbal supplements are, at best, generally not very effective and, at worst, possibly a real problem as some of them will interfere with chemotherapy, radiation or other standard cancer treatments. A notable exception to this warning is the use of vitamin B12 and folic-acid supplements for people being treated with the chemotherapy drug pemetrexed, which is marketed as Alimta® and is the standard chemo drug for people with malignant mesothelioma. The report indicates that the published research on supplements isn’t especially deep, so it does not say that all supplements should be stopped—it merely indicates that supplements need to be evaluated for potential side effects and interactions with other agents.
The report treats acupuncture and other “mind-body” modalities more favorably than supplements and recommends many of them for particular conditions. Acupuncture is recommended for pain relief and to control the nausea and vomiting that is associated with chemotherapy. However, patients who are prone to excessive bleeding should be cautious about the use of acupuncture and should only be treated by a professional with experience in treating cancer patients. Meditation is recommended to reduce stress, while yoga and other relaxation techniques may help improve sleep. Massage is recommended for general pain and anxiety, as is hypnosis, but like acupuncture, those with a tendency to bleed should avoid deep-tissue massage.
The publication of these new guidelines for alternative and complementary medicine is an important advancement in our knowledge of cancer treatment. It is hoped that patients will be well-served with this new knowledge.