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There are dozens of types of cancers, affecting people from all walks of life, and being diagnosed at all stages of development. There are also many routes to the treatment of cancer and no definite cure. Despite all the variables there are many people who do overcome this disease. It is estimated that there are nearly ten million cancer survivors living in America alone.
With varying forms of treatment and philosophies of medicine, what it the best way to treat cancer? All therapies are easily classified as either conventional or alternative medicine. Learn about what is available to cancer patients with this overview of alternative versus traditional medicine and cancer treatment. While healing methods may be strikingly different, in the end the best way to treat cancer may be to integrate both modern medical techniques to destroy or remove cancer cells and natural therapies to encourage healing.
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Traditional, Conventional Medical Care
Most cancers are treated with conventional methods. Even if you do choose to use alternative therapies it is important to work with your health care provider and to consider standard treatment options that are available for cancer patients. Why? Because many of these therapies can be effective for many patients, altogether removing or destroying cancer cells and many times at least extending life through eliminating as much of the cancer as possible and slowing the spread of a tumor.
While effective, there is a drawback of traditional medicine for cancer treatment — the negative side effects and the chance of a return of the disease. Conventional treatment methods aim to kill, destroy or remove cancer cells, but they do so at the expense of the body. Immune function is impaired, many physical side effects are experienced, and the body is less capable of healing itself if the cancer returns.
Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the most popular traditional forms of treatment. Sometimes one method is used, while in many cases more than one is used to fight the cancer. When surgery is possible it can be a very effective method for treating cancer as a growth can simply be removed. Chemotherapy is the use of chemotherapy drugs to destroy cancer cells throughout the body. The problem is that healthy cells are destroyed as well. Radiation therapy involves high-energy particles to kill cancer cells. There are many possible side effects of radiation, including nausea, skin irritation and fatigue. Other treatment methods include:
- Targeted therapy
- Bone marrow and stem cell transplants
- Gene therapy
- Photodynamic therapy
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Alternative and Complementary Medicine
Not all cancer patients use alternative medicine for treatment, but as both patients and doctors become more aware of some of the benefits of natural therapies more people are adding alternative methods to their overall treatment. While conventional medicine involves the use of drugs, radiation or surgical tools to destroy or remove cancer, alternative medicine involves the use of non-toxic, natural therapies to help the body overcome illness and to cope with the side effects of traditional care.
Some of the more popular forms of medicine used include acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, nutritional therapy, biologic and pharmacological therapies, and mind-body medicine. One or more of these therapies can be used to help treat the cancer, but also to improve both mental and physical well-being while fighting cancer and using other treatment methods which can take their toll on the body.
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Alternative vs. Traditional
While a surgical procedure may completely eliminate a cancerous growth in the body and chemotherapy drugs can possibly destroy enough cells to keep the disease at bay for years, alternative medicine is not known to cure cancer. Combined with conventional medicine however, it can enhance the body's ability to overcome the disease, and at the very least make it much easier to deal with the negative side effects of both having cancer and of some of the harsher treatment methods.
Alternative versus traditional medicine for cancer treatment — which is better? One form of medicine is not necessarily better then another and each individual will have their own experience with the disease. To give yourself the best treatment, learn about what is available, have an open discussion with your health care provider about your well-being, and consider using both conventional and alternative therapies. There is no magic pill or cure in a bottle, but combining the strength of chemo, radiation or other modern techniques with the healing support of herbs, nutrition and other alternative techniques your body may have a great chance of returning to health, or at least doing the best that it can while facing the disease.
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American Cancer Society <http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/TreatmentTypes/index>
National Cancer Institute <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/cam>
Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
photo by Liz West
photo by Jules Stonesoup