Cancer: Is there an increasing use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine?
Cancer is one of the most dangerous and serious diseases. Although it is recognized that the cancer is not absolutely incurable, and it may be treated, especially if it is detected in the early stages, however, it remains one of the most fatal and frightening diseases even nowadays. Traditional medicine includes the wide range of methods of cancer treatment, but they are not always as effective as it is expected, and many people (sometimes in the desperate attempt to save their lives by any possible means) tend to use the alternative and untraditional methods. Current paper describes in details the main types of the alternative methods, the degree of their effectiveness and probable risks connected with the usage of untraditional medicine in the cancer treatment. It also analyzes the possibility of the combination of traditional and complementary and alternative medicine and its outcomes.
Cancer is the type of disease caused by abnormal growth of the cells, which cannot be controlled, regulated or stopped. Cancer cells reproduce and spread rapidly, despite the body’s signals. They frequently are different from the healthy cells and cannot function normally. When such cell growth causes the appearance of tumors, which harm the body, this condition is called cancer and requires the immediate intervention.
The main risk factors, which are the reason for cancer, are the following: tobacco smoking, the excessive weight and being obese, bad nutrition, low level of physical activeness, infections, which significantly decrease the immunity of the body, air pollution and the low quality of the environment. Some researches indicate that the level of cancer disease incidence and mortality depends on the level of the country’s economic development. Thus, in accordance with statistics, 70% of deaths caused by the cancer occur in the countries with low or pre-middle level of income. Also, as the statistics show, men are more vulnerable to cancer than women. The rate of cancer disease incidents in men amounts to 45% , while the amount of women is 39%. The most wide-spread cancer form is lung cancer. As the research indicates, the fact that cancer is genetically based disease is the myth. Only 8% of the common amount of diseases are the cases when the predisposition to the cancer is transmitted genetically.
Oftentimes, people do not trust in the effectiveness of the traditional methods of treatment, because there are not many cases when people manage to recover fully due to the traditional methods, although they are very advanced. In such cases, they prefer to use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Also, people who do not get any facilitation using traditional medicine may use CAM as the last chance to recover. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term used in order to unite the range of medical products and practices, which are not included in the standard care. The term ‘standard care’ is used to define the methods and medications, which medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and health professionals referred to the official medicine, such as nurses and physical therapists, practice. CAM represents a significant challenge for oncologists, because some types of CAM may be successfully combined with standard methods of treatment, and because excessive or inappropriate use of some types of CAM (for example, the defined herbal mixtures and vitamin supplements), may considerably damage health.
CAM includes the following types, which are described below:
- Natural products. This group consists of the wide range of various products, such as herbs (also defined by the term botanicals), vitamins and minerals, and probiotics (live bacteria or yeasts). They are widely represented in the markets, freely available to consumers, and frequently sold as dietary supplements. The tendency of usage of the natural products has increased significantly in the past several decades. In accordance with the 2007 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which is based on the comprehensive survey concerning the usage of complementary health methods and techniques by the Americans, 17.7% of American people had used a non-vitamin or non-mineral natural products in the year of 2007. The above mentioned products were one of the most popular complementary health methods among adults as well as children. The most usable natural products for cancer treatment are fish oil/ omega 3s, (37.4%), Echinacea (37.2%). The effects of these natural products have been studied in the large number of various placebo-controlled researches, and many of them did not indicate the anticipated effects. Research on other natural products which is conducted in order to determine whether they are effective and safe in the treatment of cancer is currently under the process of studying. Several researches have confirmed that some natural products may be quite helpful and harmless; however, more details need to be learned about the effects of these products in the human body and whether they are safe and potentially able to interact with medications and with other kinds of natural products. Similarly to any medical product or treatment method, the risks connected with be complementary therapies also exist. The above mentioned risks depend on the particular kind of therapy. Each therapy requires to be considered on its own. However, if the specific therapy is considered, the risks connected with its usage may be minimized.
- Mind and Body Practices. This type of CAM includes a wide range of various procedures or techniques controlled or taught by a specially trained practitioner or teacher. These techniques and procedures include the following main elements. Acupuncture (when a practitioner stimulates special points on the body, the most frequently inserting a thin needle into the patient’s skin). Massage therapy (when a practitioner presses, rubs, and moves muscles and other soft tissues of the body by means of his or her hands and fingers in order to provoke the increase of the blood flow and oxygen to the area which is massaged). Meditation (conscious mental technique used in order to learn concentrating the attention and remaining in the certain posture in order to stop the stream of thoughts and relax the body). The range of movement therapies includes a great variety of different complexes of Eastern and Western movement based techniques (for example, Feldenkrais method or Alexander technique; sometimes such moving techniques as Pilates or Rolfing Structural Integration may be used; Trager psychophysical integration may also be the example of the above mentioned movement-based techniques). In order to provoke the body’s natural relaxing response, various relaxation techniques (for example, breathing exercises, guided imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation) are used. Spinal manipulation is one of the most popular methods which is practiced by health care specialists (for example, chiropractors or osteopathic physicians; it also can be practiced by naturopathic physicians or physical therapists, and sometimes even some medical doctors). Practitioners implement the spinal manipulations by means of their hands or special devices in order to apply the controlled force to the joints of the spine. The force applied is predetermined by the form of the manipulations used. Tai chi technique and qi gong practice are derived from traditional Chinese medicine and consist of special movements and postures, coordinated breathing techniques, and mental concentration.
It can be stated with certainty that there exist certain risks connected with using CAM because not all peculiarities, the level of effectiveness and side effects of such methods are examined thoroughly. However, there are some recommendations used in order to minimize the risks of using CAM.
- The patient should know that it is very important to charge of his or her health by being an informed and aware consumer. The patient should be informed about the fact that the scientific evidence should be the only reliable source of knowledge about any therapy’s safety and whether it works.
- The patients should also realize that every individual responds differently to the treatment, whether it is traditional or alternative. The person’s response to a certain therapy depends on many different factors, such as the person’s health state, the way the therapy is used, or the personal conviction and belief in the effectiveness of the therapy.
- The patients should understand that what is natural does not compulsorily mean safe. (For example, the mushrooms growing in the wild environment can be considered. Some of them are safe and humans can eat them, while some others are poisonous for humans).
- The patients should be informed properly about factors that influence their safety. In the therapy which is implemented by a practitioner, the range of these factors consists of the training, skills advance, and the depth of the experience of the practitioner. The significant factors influencing the safety of a product (for example, a dietary supplement) are the quality and the appropriate combination of specific ingredients and the level of quality of the manufacturing processes.
- If a patient decides to use a method of treatment which would be implemented by a complementary medicine practitioner (for example, naturopathy or acupuncture), he or she should choose the practitioner very carefully.
- If a patient decides to use the dietary supplements, such as the herbal products, he or she should be informed that some products may have different results of interaction of these products with medications or other supplements, and some of them may have negative side effects.
- A patient should inform all his or her health care providers about any complementary and alternative methods he or she uses. A patient should provide them with a full picture of what they do to manage their health. This will assist to ensure appropriately coordinated and safe care.
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Summarizing the information expounded above, it can be stated that although the traditional medicine proposes quite progressive and advanced treatment for the cancer, some people tend to use CAM. There are a lot of different types of CAM. Some of them are scientifically tested and approved by conventional medicine. However, the effects of others are in the process of studying. Also, the great challenging research field for the scientists is the interaction between traditional medicine and CAM. The side effects of combination of traditional and unconventional treatments are not fully examined. Therefore, the scientists should pay the special attention to this problem, as the combination of the above mentioned types of medicine may provide the maximally effective cancer treatment, as well as considerably damage the body.