Thursday, February 22, 2018

Available Cancer Treatments: Overview

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Category: Cancer

As if having cancer isn’t traumatic enough, getting it treated is fundamentally different from the way people other illnesses. With most other diseases, you rely on your family doctor, and perhaps a specialist or two. But cancer often involves a dizzying array of practitioners: your family doctor, one or more pathologists (who determine what kind of cancer you have), surgeons, medical oncologists (who prescribe and supervise chemotherapy), and radiation oncologists (who coordinate radiation therapy).

There are so many doctors to consult, so many opinions to weigh. Most cancer patients feel they don’t have enough knowledge to make good decisions about their treatment, which adds to the stress of their diagnosis. Deciding on cancer treatment can be daunting, in fact, maddening.

Cancer is also different from most other diseases because it has been a real battleground between mainstream and alternative practitioners. Until recently, mainstream oncologists castigated alternative practitioners as unscrupulous charlatans who cynically tricked desperate, poorly educated patients into abandoning conventional therapies and spending their life savings on snake oil.

Meanwhile, alternative practitioners derided mainstream treatments—surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy—as “cutting, burning, and poisoning.” From the 1930s to the present day, the federal government and state medical boards have harrassed many alternative cancer practitioners, among them Max Gerson, who advocated a nutritional therapy; Harry Hoxey, who used herbal therapy; and Stanislaw Burzynski; who uses antineoplastons, drugs derived from urine. Gerson and Hoxsey eventually left the country for Mexico, where their therapies are still available. Burzynski practices in Houston, but continues to be scrutinized (he says harrassed) by the FDA.

But as complementary therapies have become better researched and more mainstream, most oncologists and complementary practitioners have suspended the name-calling and begun to see the value in a blended approach to cancer care.

The first step toward mutual accommodation occurred in 1986, when the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) convened a group of oncologists and complementary-therapy advocates to coordinate the federal government’s first-ever assessment of unconventional cancer therapies. When the OTA released its report in 1990, the participants had reached a consensus on several key points:

• Very few cancer patients are duped by alternative practitioners, and very few abandon conventional oncology. About 85 percent of those who use complementary cancer therapies combine them with mainstream oncology, or turned to them after exhausting what standard treatments have to offer.

• Several studies show intriguing benefits for some unconventional approaches, at least in laboratory and animal studies. For example, researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City recently showed that in mice with prostate cancer, cutting dietary fat intake in half substantially slowed, and in some cases, reversed tumor growth.

• Most alternative therapies cause no harm when used to complementary conventional care. Testimonials abound from those who feel they have benefited in some way, even if they eventually died of their disease.

• Finally, many complementary therapies advocate a low-fat diet, moderate exercise, deep relaxation, and group support—recommendations that mainstream medicine touts as inherently health-promoting.

Since the OTA report, literally hundreds of studies have been published supporting the value of complemenatry therapies for cancer treatment. The evidence clearly shows that the best results—longer cancer-free survival, and improved quality of life—come from blending mainstream oncology and complementary therapies.

As a result, blended cancer therapy is on the rise. Depending on the study, up to 64 percent of cancer patients try at least one complementary approach. In one of the most rigorously scientific reports, Norwegian researchers surveyed 252 cancer patients about their use of unconventional therapies. Overall, 45 percent said they’d used them, with women more likely to go the blended route (50 percent vs. 31 percent among the men).

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