BOX 2.1 Alternative or Complementary Cancer Treatments
Certain approaches to pain relief and coping (e.g., guided imagery, acupuncture, therapeutic touch) are increasingly being offered in mainstream cancer centers alongside conventional treatment. Other alternative approaches such as combinations of unknown drugs and chemicals given with the promise of cure fall squarely outside what mainstream medicine accepts, and patients may go to clinics inside and outside the United States to obtain them.
Among the more popular alternative or complementary approaches are the following:
- dietary, ranging from low-fat "conventional" or vegetarian diets to a strict "macrobiotic" diet (which supporters believe to be curative);
- spiritual approaches based on Western and Eastern religions, as well as Native American belief systems;
- mind-body techniques such as hypnosis, relaxation, meditation, yoga, and guided Imagery;
- physical approaches such as massage and therapeutic touch; and
- Chinese medicine of various types.
Patients may use mind-body approaches, in particular, throughout the course of cancer treatment (and survivorship)—for example, to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, to improve their psychological state, and to increase their energy levels. Some of these techniques have been studied and have been shown objectively to benefit patients, although this cannot be said for each approach or claim of benefit.
At present, there is little evidence available for judging which, if any, alternative treatments are actually beneficial, particularly in terms of improved survival and, in some cases, safety. It is reasonable to assume, however, that patient interest will continue to maintain a focus on these treatments and that the government will continue its modest efforts to foster reliable evaluations of them.