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These products tend to function as major laxatives, potentially dangerous when taken over days or weeks or on a regular basis as recommended by promoters, especially for cancer patients.

Neither the presence of toxins nor the benefit of eliminating them has been documented. The macrobiotic diet was developed in the s by George Ohsawa , a Japanese philosopher who sought to integrate traditional oriental medicine, Christian teachings, and aspects of Western medicine [ 32 , 33 ]. This is essentially a vegetarian diet, with emphasis on whole grains, legumes, fresh vegetables, and the occasional intake of fish.

The selection of foods is so limited that people on this diet may develop significant nutritional deficiencies. Although healthful nutrition is important for patients and has value in cancer prevention, neither this nor any other diet alone has been shown to cure cancer. Some patients and alternative practitioners believe that large dosages of vitamins or intravenous infusions of high-dose vitamin C can cure disease.

His claims that massive doses of vitamin C could cure cancer were not confirmed by clinical trials [ 34 , 35 ], but megavitamin and orthomolecular therapy, the latter adding minerals and other nutrients, remain popular. Perhaps the simplicity of this approach and the fact that patients can prescribe and obtain their own over-the-counter therapy contribute to its appeal.

However, megavitamin or orthomolecular therapy has not been proven to be an effective cancer treatment. Energy therapies are based on the theory that there are energy fields around the human body. It is believed that by changing the purported energy field by manual manipulations, such as Qigong or therapeutic touch, or the application of electromagnetic fields, disease can be eliminated. The existence of such energy fields has not been scientifically proven.

Therapeutic touch TT , despite its name, involves no direct contact. TT healers in many areas of the U. Bioelectromagnetic field therapies involve the use of pulsed, alternating or direct current and magnetic fields to treat medical conditions. Clinical trials have been conducted to test magnetic field therapies in managing pain [ 39 , 40 ], tremor [ 41 ], epilepsy [ 42 ], and migraine headaches [ 43 ].

No data support their role in any illness. Because this group of alternative treatments is invasive and biologically active, it is highly controversial. One such therapy is antineoplastons, developed by Stanislaw Burzynski in his clinic in Houston, Texas [ 44 ]. A joint research effort by the NIH Office of Alternative Medicine and the NCI failed to accrue sufficient numbers of patients, and none of the six patients assessable for response showed tumor regression [ 45 ].

Further research at the Burzynski Institute was permitted under an Investigational New Drug permit [ 46 ]. Immuno-augmentation therapy IAT , subcutaneous injections of sera derived from the blood of healthy donors, was developed by the late Lawrence Burton and offered in his clinic in the Bahamas. Burton claimed that IAT was particularly effective in treating mesothelioma [ 49 ].

Advocates of shark cartilage as a cancer therapy base their therapy on its putative antiangiogenic properties [ 51 ].

One-third of patients use alternative medicines

Neovastat, another cartilage extract, was associated with a survival benefit in renal cell carcinoma in higher versus lower doses [ 53 ]. However, that trial was not randomized. Many additional unproven methods, such as Laetrile [ 55 , 56 ], bioresonance therapy, oxygen and ozone therapies, insulin potentiation therapy, and many more [ 26 ], are promoted as literal alternatives to mainstream cancer treatment. Their popularities wax and wane over time. Cancer patients use over-the-counter dietary supplements in addition to or instead of other cancer treatments. An important trend is the increased use of herbal products instead of other supplements in recent years [ 58 ].

Systematic, evidence-based information on popular dietary supplements used by cancer patients and herb-drug interactions in oncology is available to consumers and health care professionals [ 26 , 59 ]. The general public tends not to be aware that herbs are dilute natural drugs that contain scores of different chemicals, most of which have not been documented [ 60 ]. Their effects are not always predictable [ 61 ].

Neither the FDA nor any other agency examines herbal remedies for safety and effectiveness. Few products have been formally tested for side effects or quality control. Patients undergoing active treatment should be told to stop using herbal remedies, because some herbs cause problematic interactions with chemotherapeutic agents, sensitization of the skin to radiation therapy, dangerous blood pressure swings, and other unwanted interactions with anesthetics during surgery [ 62 ].

Complementary vs. Alternative Cancer Therapies -- Sloan-Kettering

Herbs such as feverfew, garlic, ginger, and ginkgo have anticoagulant effects and should be avoided by patients on coumadin, heparin, aspirin, and related agents. Concerns have been raised recently even about dietary antioxidants, which may interact with radiation therapy or chemotherapeutic agents [ 63 ]. The risk of herb-drug interactions appears to be greatest for patients with kidney or liver problems [ 64 , 65 ].

Essiac, one of the most popular herbal alternative cancer medicines in North America, was developed initially by a Native healer from southwestern Canada.

Forgoing Conventional Cancer Treatments for Alternative Medicine Increases Risk of Death

It was popularized in the s by a Canadian nurse, and comprises four herbs: burdock, turkey rhubarb, sorrel, and slippery elm. Evidence of anticancer activity has been limited to anecdotal reports [ 66 ].

No clinical studies support the use of essiac also sold as flor-essence. Iscador, a derivative of mistletoe, is a popular cancer remedy in Europe, where it is said to have been in continuous use as a folk treatment since the time of the Druids. Iscador is available in many mainstream European cancer clinics.

Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer

European governments have funded studies of the effectiveness of iscador against cancer. The results are mixed, with all studies suffering some methodological shortcomings [ 67 ]. None of the methodologically stronger trials showed efficacy in survival, according to another systematic review [ 68 ]. Several mushroom-derived compounds are approved for use as cancer treatments in Japan.

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Trials on polysaccharide Kureha PSK , an extract of the mushroom Coriolus versicolor , showed superior survival with PSK compared with controls in both gastrectomy [ 69 , 70 ] and esophagectomy patients [ 71 ]. Two randomized trials of PSK given after curative resection for colorectal cancer showed that both disease-free and overall survival rates were significantly higher in the PSK group [ 72 , 73 ].

Results were less encouraging in breast cancer [ 74 , 75 ] and leukemia [ 76 ]. The proposed mechanism was immune modulation.

Herbal medicine | Complementary and alternative therapy | Cancer Research UK

A combination of eight herbs, all but two from TCM, PC-SPES PC for prostate cancer; spes is the Latin word for hope reduced prostate-specific antigen levels in men with advanced prostate cancer regardless of whether their disease was androgen dependent [ 78 — 81 ]. Improvements in quality of life also have been reported [ 82 ]. Estrogenic side effects occurred with PC-SPES, and its mechanism of action, although uncertain, may relate to its phytoestrogenic effects.

PC-SPES was suspended from the market in early when undisclosed contamination with anxiolytic and antithrombotic agents was uncovered [ 83 ].


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Mind-body interventions aim to utilize the reciprocal relationship between body and mind to help patients relax, reduce stress, and relieve symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments. Hypnosis and relaxation techniques are often used by conventional practitioners, such as clinical psychologists. Several randomized trials have shown effects of hypnosis on both procedural and malignant pain [ 84 , 85 ] and on anxiety, depression, and mood in newly diagnosed cancer patients [ 86 — 88 ].

Trials also have generally found hypnosis and relaxation training to be beneficial against chemotherapy-induced nausea in adults [ 89 , 90 ], although some studies found no differences between groups [ 91 ]. Music therapy is provided by professional musicians who are also trained music therapists. Typically they hold graduate degrees in music therapy and are trained to deal with the psychosocial as well as clinical issues faced by patients and family members. Music therapy is particularly effective in the palliative care setting, with randomized trials indicating benefit for reducing anxiety [ 92 — 96 ], depression [ 97 — 99 ], and pain [ , ].

The benefits of massage therapy are documented, especially for seriously ill and palliative care patients. Several randomized trials suggest that massage reduces anxiety, at least in the short-term, in groups as varied as adolescent psychiatric patients [ ] and elderly people in care homes [ ]. In a high-quality, if underpowered, trial, 35 patients were randomized to receive either up to nine minute massages during inpatient stays or standard care control.

Massage was superior to the control treatment in reducing anxiety, nausea, and fatigue and improving general well-being [ ]. In the largest study to date, 87 hospitalized cancer patients were randomized to receive either foot massage or a control treatment. Pain and anxiety scores were lower with massage, with differences between groups achieving both statistical and clinical significance [ ].

Modern versions include electrical pulses electro-acupuncture or laser laser acupuncture to provide extra stimulation [ ]. Stimulation is thought to regulate the flow of Qi. The biological basis of Qi or of meridian channels has not been found, but modern research suggests that the effect of acupuncture may be mediated by the release of neurotransmitters [ — ]. Data from clinical trials support the use of acupuncture for emesis [ — ] and pain [ — ].

The NIH issued a concensus statement in supporting the efficacy of acupuncture for adult postoperative and chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting, and for postoperative dental pain [ ]. Many cancer patients use complementary and alternative therapies [ 9 , — ].