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Alternative Therapies

In recent years, interest in alternative cancer treatment methods has grown tremendously. These approaches differ from the conventional medical treatments and are currently under study. They are also called unconventional, nontraditional, complementary, unproven, holistic, or questionable methods. Views about alternative cancer therapies vary greatly: believers have great faith in them, claiming they can do miracles while non-believers simply dismiss them as medical quackery.

The major appeal of alternative treatments to cancer patients lies in the fact that, unless their disease is discovered at an early stage, most conventional treatments cannot promise cure while alternative therapies do, as claimed by the salespeople of these treatments. Some alternative treatments claim not only to cure cancer, but also to promise few or no objectionable side effects, which can be enormously tempting for cancer patients. Besides, alternative practitioners often appear more sympathetic, listening and talking to their patients more than the typical overscheduled physicians in busy managed-care or oncology settings.

In general, these unconventional therapies not only cannot cure, butl also they have not been held to the same standards of proof of safety and effectiveness as have the conventional drugs and treatments prescribed by physicians. Some unconventional treatments may even interfere with the effectiveness of a scientifically valid conventional medical therapy. Some unconventional therapies may also cause injury or infection or other kinds of problems. What often causes so much dismay among traditional practitioners is that unproven therapies sometimes steer people away from scientifically valid treatments that would have been effective if they had not delayed it.

However, despite the fact that some dubious treatments are still being sold to the public, taking advantage of the desperation of cancer patients and their families, some cancer doctors and well-respected scientists believe that some of the alternative treatments are worthy of serious study. In fact, some positive reports of unconventional treatments come from the medical community itself, and some methods are being used in some of the most prestigious cancer centers in this country. Some unconventional therapies are beginning to take their place alongside conventional treatments. These methods are usually used to improve the quality of life during treatment.

In conjunction with conventional therapies, prayer, massage, meditation, and yoga are some of the methods used to alleviate anxiety and stress. Laetrile, holistic surgery, and ayurvedic therapies are the most common unconventional therapies that are used today. These are often called complementary methods. Nutritional therapy focuses on an eating plan to help improve the patient's well being, tolerance of treatment, and quality of life. Support groups can be a valuable part of cancer treatment because they can have a positive effect on the patient's overall attitude. Some evidence also suggests that social support may affect the immune system positively. Researchers are finding that some techniques, such as acupuncture, appear to relieve some symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and pain.

Before seeking alternative treatments, cancer patients are strongly advised to discuss these with their oncologists and ask the same questions about alternative therapy as they do about conventional therapy so that they can make educated decisions regarding their cancer treatment.