Integrating naturopathic therapies in cancer care
By Dr. Martin Gleixner, MSc, ND
My last column was devoted to the integration of naturopathic medicine within our present health care system.
I proposed an integrated approach that includes: 1) family physicians (MDs) and registered naturopathic doctors (NDs) working side-by-side; 2) the adoption of six guiding principles for all doctors and health professionals; and 3) a new health paradigm that aims to determine and address the true cause of one’s medical concerns.
Based on Statistics Canada, cancer continues to be the number one killer in 2012. Preventing cancer and improving the outcome of cancer should therefore be top priority in health care.
Let’s discuss the top 4 reasons why naturopathic therapies should be integrated in cancer care:
1. Scientifically proven to work along with conventional treatments
Both naturopathic medicine and conventional medicine have their strengths. The debate is no longer whether it’s one or the other, but rather moving forward with the integration of both in cancer treatments. Cancer outcomes benefit from Oncologist recommendations which include the surgical removal of the tumour (unless determined that risks are too high), and from a combination of radiation and/or chemotherapy. Oncologists are trained to determine the best combination of surgery, radiation and chemo. Naturopathic doctors are trained to work along side these conventional treatments.
As recognized health care professionals in Canada, naturopathic doctors are trained in oncology which includes an understanding of conventional and naturopathic treatment options. Naturopathic doctors understand both the standard treatments employed by medical oncologists and how best to work with them in a collaborative model of cancer co-treatment. Using the latest scientific evidence, naturopathic doctors know what supplements/foods can and cannot be prescribed during surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Patient care, therefore, can only benefit from combining the strengths of each form of medicine.
2. Guiding patients through our confusing marketplace
The use of natural therapies is very common among cancer patients. Their friends and family, hearing they have cancer, offer to sell them the latest multi-level-marketed products such as antioxidant rich juices believing these have anticancer properties or read about promising miracle cures on the internet. Scams and cancer quackery is widespread. Many patients for example, ask me about Essiac tea. Although it includes a beautiful combination of gentle herbs that can aid in digestive function and overall health, there is no scientific evidence that shows it can cure cancer. Relying on scientifically proven naturopathic options is a much better approach.
People with cancer often get excited about what they read about scientifically-researched treatments such as green tea extract, Curcuma longa (curcumin), etc. Their benefits in cancer therapy, however, require adequate dosage for effectiveness and proper timing to prevent interference with conventional treatments. Your naturopathic doctor is trained to provide such guidance.
3. Consider a ‘person’ based model vs a ‘tumour’ based model
Historically, the conventional cancer model is one that maintained the importance of tumour resection and preventing spread and metastasis. Although such a ‘tumour’ based model approach is justified, it falls short because it does not address all the factors involved with cancer. Based on current statistics on cancer mortality rates, it is clear that such an approach is inadequate as the sole treatment in preventing the re-occurrence of cancer.
A more complete, naturopathic cancer model would include the following:
- Support healing after surgery
- Improve outcome and reduce side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation
- Provide interval care before, between and after conventional interventions
- Empower patient self-help
- Avoid drug interactions with supplements, botanical medicines, diet, etc…
- Remove obstacles to cure, i.e. malnutrition
- Build a multidisciplinary team of health professionals
- Explore spiritual and mind-body healing
- Prevent secondary cancers
By becoming an active participant during their treatments, patients with cancer can improve their outcome. Using a team of health professionals, that includes both the oncologist and naturopathic doctor, all aspects of a patient’s health can be taken care of.
3. Cancer prevention
As the saying goes “prevention is the best form of medicine”. Although the causes of cancer are complex and multi-factorial, many proactive measures can be taken that aim to prevent the formation of cancerous tumours and any re-occurrences in patients that are healing from a previous cancer.
By emphasizing healthy daily habits, assessing risk factors and hereditary susceptibility, and making appropriate interventions, naturopathic doctors aim to prevent chronic disease, including cancers. As examples, such an individualized approach would include: 1) lifestyle considerations such as proper nutrition, establishing an exercise regime, improving sleep quality, and encouraging positive emotional states; 2) decreasing inflammation in the body thereby limiting cancer growth factors; 3) decreasing exposure of toxins and help detoxify the body from accumulated carcinogens when indicated; and 4) supporting proper immunity that provides the checks and balances when cells begin to transform themselves.
4. Includes a comprehensive approach
In order to prevent cancer re-occurrences, it is important to adopt a "dual approach to integrative oncology care":
- Step 1) The first step is to improve your outcome. This is achieved by setting up a personalized treatment plan specific to your cancer type and the cancer treatments you are receiving.
- Step 2) The second step is to prevent re-occurrences and to prevent secondary cancers. This is done by determining and correcting any underlying imbalances that initially led to the development of the cancer.
The use of naturopathic medicine in conjunction with conventional medicine in cancer care is not only a timely undertaking, but can help infuse a necessary framework into the way we practice medicine in New Brunswick and Canada.
Published by Dr. Gleixner on Friday, June 15th, 2012 in Times & Transcript.
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