Magazine article Newsweek

Easing the Treatment

Magazine article Newsweek

Easing the Treatment

Article excerpt

Byline: Wendy Weiger, M.D., Ph.D., and David Eisenberg, M.D., Harvard Medical School

Cancer "cures" abound on the Internet. Unfortunately, few of them are backed by credible evidence. Choosing an untested alternative over an established treatment can amount to choosing death over life. But that is not to say that complementary therapies have no legitimate role in cancer therapy. They can make both the disease and the treatment more bearable. The challenge is to integrate them wisely into your care.

Though no complementary or alternative therapy has yet been proved to arrest tumors or pro-long life, researchers are now studying interventions based on diet, mind-body techniques and even shark-cartilage supplements. The findings will be reported over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, it's important to remember that "natural" doesn't always mean safe. Some supplements (for example, high doses of vitamin E and the herbal remedy Ginkgo biloba) have anti-coagulant effects that could cause excessive bleeding in patients undergoing surgery. Soy contains plant estrogens that theoretically could stimulate the growth of breast or endometrial cancer. And some supplements can counteract conventional cancer medications; one recent study found that St. John's wort (an herbal mood booster) lowered blood levels of a drug used to treat colorectal cancer. And though antioxidants may help limit the adverse effects of radiation and chemotherapy, recent studies suggest they may also sometimes make these treatments less effective. …

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