Alternative Treatments for Breast Cancer
The terms complementary treatment and alternative treatment are
used in different ways by different people. This can lead to confusion about
treatment options. Complementary treatments are typically coupled with conventional medical care. These treatments usually don’t
promise a cure for any illness.
Alternative treatments are used in place of conventional care. These may suggest that they can cure
a certain disease.
According to the National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM),
65 percent of people with cancer use complementary treatments for the disease.
Using complementary approaches to manage cancer symptoms or cancer treatment
side effects has shown some benefit. However, there is no compelling evidence that
any complementary treatment either cures cancer or causes remission.
It’s always a good idea to discuss possible complementary or
alternative treatments with your doctor before using them to see if they’re
safe for you to use.
Acupuncture is a treatment in which a practitioner gently
places very fine needles in certain areas of the skin. This is typically a
complementary treatment. It’s thought that acupuncture triggers the nervous
system and causes multiple effects throughout the body. One of the purported
effects is increasing the amount of natural painkilling chemicals in the body.
Other effects include reduced nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
outlines the studies that have found acupuncture to reduce nausea in patients
with breast cancer. However, more research needs to be done to see the full
Visualization is another term for guided imagery. It’s often
used as a complementary treatment. With this treatment, a person imagines
situations with sensory details to reach a goal.
Guided imagery can minimize symptoms of depression and increase
positive feelings. This treatment tool can be done with a trained therapist or
by yourself. CDs and smartphone apps can aid you in practicing guided imagery.
Herbal supplements may be touted as being able to reduce
nausea or other symptoms, but there is a lack of scientific evidence for many
of them. The evidence-based trials are not well designed, giving questionable results.
Supplements can also interfere with any medications you may
be taking and cause adverse side effects. Herbal supplements are used as both a
complementary and an alternative treatment.
Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal supplements.
It’s good to eat a healthy diet that feeds your body and
provides you with the nutrients you need. However, beware diets that advertise their
ability to cure cancer or disease, or those that suggest using high doses of
vitamins, which isn’t always safe.
The Gerson diet regimen uses coffee enemas and hourly meals
of crushed fruits and vegetables. Laxatives may also be part of an alternative
diet treatment. Some dietary aids, like ginger or peppermint tea, have been
shown to reduce nausea and are usually safe to consume.
No diet can cure cancer. If you want to make any dietary
changes, your doctor can guide you to a healthy nutrition plan or recommend a
nutritionist who can work with your treatment team.
A popular complementary treatment, yoga blends nutrition,
meditation, and exercise to bring together body and mind. The poses in a
typical routine are designed to build strength and flexibility. A certified
instructor usually teaches classes. You can also use instructional yoga videos
Women with breast cancer can benefit from practicing yoga.
Benefits include less fatigue, better quality of sleep, and a better sense of
quality of life. If a routine is too difficult, ask your instructor for
modifications that are better suited to your ability.
There are many other complementary and alternative
treatments. Sometimes a complementary treatment will be used as an alternative
treatment, such as:
- tai chi
- chiropractic therapy
A treatment that provides comfort or relief for one person
may not work for another. You should feel empowered to try different treatments
with your doctor’s approval until you find one that works for you.
Some therapies don’t interfere with conventional medicine, but
others might. They can cause adverse effects or reduce the effectiveness of the
conventional treatment. The safety of many alternative therapies like
supplements or herbs isn’t certain because they aren’t regulated by an
Delaying conventional treatment while trying an alternative
treatment increases the risk of disease growth, which makes the cancer harder
to treat if you decide to go back to conventional treatments. If you’d like to
add or replace your traditional medical treatment, it’s a good idea to discuss
it with your doctor.
Breast cancer treatment plans vary. Some people choose to
supplement traditional medicine with other treatments or use alternative
treatments instead of the conventional treatments. It’s an individual choice
that should be based on what’s right for you.