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Complementary and Alternative TreatmentsTypes of Complementary Therapies for Breast Cancer, Why and How to Get Them

Many women with breast cancer choose to explore the option of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for the disease. CAM is often associated with a “holistic approach” to treatment, meaning that it treats the person as a whole—body, mind and spirit—as opposed to focusing on the tumor or the specific site of the disease. Investigating CAM therapies may help you feel that you have explored all the options and are more in control of your treatment.

The specific reasons for seeking CAM treatments that are most commonly cited by breast cancer survivors include:

  • pain relief
  • controlling side effects
  • boosting the immune system
  • finding a cure

"Whether or not your doctor is comfortable with alternative treatments, s/he should respect your choices and should know everything about your treatment to effectively monitor your progress."

Whatever your goal, there are a few important points to remember about CAM.

There is no scientific proof that CAM therapies cure cancer, and little scientific evidence to prove that they have any effect at all. For this reason, you should approach CAM with realistic goals in mind. You probably won’t find a miracle cure, but you may find ways to prolong and/or improve your quality of life.

CAM treatments should be used as adjunctive therapies to conventional medical treatments. This means that you should use CAM in addition to, not instead of, conventional treatment. Conventional medicine offers very effective treatments for breast cancer, especially in the early stages, which should not be discarded in favor of CAM.

Keep your doctor informed of any CAM treatments you are using. Whether or not your doctor is comfortable with CAM, s/he should respect your choices and should know everything about your treatment to effectively monitor your progress. Some CAM treatments may actually interfere with the absorption or action of the conventional treatments you receive, and some can have serious side effects.

Just because CAM treatments are “natural” doesn’t mean they’re harmless. Many natural substances can be toxic or have a negative effect on your health. Consult with your doctor before taking any CAM treatments and find out everything you can about possible side effects.

There are many different types of CAM treatments and therapies, ranging from psychological counseling to spiritual healing. Some of the CAM types most frequently used by breast cancer patients include:

  • psychological treatment and support such as psychotherapy, imagery, group therapy and cancer support groups
  • nutritional approaches including macrobiotics and other types of diets for cancer patients
  • nutritional supplements including vitamins and herbs; these are most commonly prescribed by physicians and chiropractors
  • traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies
  • massage and relaxation techniques
  • yoga and other exercises
  • psychic healing including laying on of hands and prayer
  • homeopathy which involves the administration of minuscule amounts of toxic substances thought to have healthful effects.