Cancer Treatment Support
UsesImprovingSurvival and Quality of Life With Conventional Treatment
- Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC)
- Coriolus versicolor
- Ginkgo biloba
- Music Therapy
- MistletoeExtract, Injected
- Panax ginseng
- Relaxation Therapies
- Social Support
- Therapeutic Touch
- Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Active Hexose Correlated Compound (AHCC)
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ 10 )
- Sea Buckthorn
- Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Vitamin E
- Aloe vera Gel
- Calendula Cream
- Multivitamin/Multimineral Supplements
- Sea Buckthorn
- Oligomeric Proanthocyanidins (OPCs)
- Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine
- Black Cohosh
- Dong Quai
- Panax ginseng
- Red Clover
- St. John’sWort
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Not only is cancer the secondleading cause of death in the United States (after heart disease), itsinsidious nature gives it a special terror. Most diseases give warning in theform of escalating symptoms, while others strike so suddenly that there’s notime to brood on it. Cancer follows a different, stealthier path. A person whofeels perfectly well may come back from the doctor’s office with a diagnosis ofpotentially fatal cancer and plenty of time to fear what comes next.Conventional treatments for cancer also have frightening qualities tothem: disfiguring surgery, arduous chemotherapy, and treatment with invisibleradiation. In many cases, when cancer is found early enough, conventionaltreatment can lead to a permanent cure. But often the prognosis is given instatistics—a percentage chance of survival—or, worse, in months remaining tolive. No wonder, then, that people turn to alternative medicine.It would be wonderful if there were some powerful alternative approach thatcould rout cancer at its root. Unfortunately, the reality is that noalternative treatment offers a sure and simple route to recovery. Worse still,there are plenty of unscrupulous people who will take advantage of a cancervictim’s desperation. Even the most scrupulous providers of alternative cancertherapy mislead in one sense: they display a conviction and enthusiasm eventhough they do not know, in truth, whether their approach really works. Itsimply isn’t possible for a medical practitioner to fairly judge theeffectiveness of a therapy from apparent clinical results. Only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies can do that. (For information on why this form of study is essential, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies? ) It is possible, of course, that some alternativetherapies for cancer may truly work, even if they haven’t yet been proven.However, we may never know which ones are real and which ones offer only falsepromises. Proper studies require money and patience with the scientificprocess, and proponents of alternative cancer therapies may lack one or both ofthose. In addition, ethical considerations make it difficult to study anunproven therapy for a fatal disease, when therapies that provide a chance ofcure are available. For this reason, most studies of alternative therapies forcancer have involved adding a natural treatment to a standard cancer regimen;alternatively, they enrolled individuals who have already failed to respond toexisting methods. These latter circumstances could potentially hide thebenefits of an effective natural therapy. If a treatment only worked in theabsence of chemotherapy, for example (as some alternative cancer therapyproponents claim about their methods) or could only cure early cases ofcancer, these ethical obstacles would prevent researchers from findingout.This article discusses the relatively small amount ofinformation that is known from a scientific perspective about alternativetreatments for cancer. We also discuss natural options that may reduce sideeffects of standard cancer therapies, as well as possible interactions betweenherbs and supplements and drugs.
Proposed Natural Treatments for CancerVarious natural supplements have shown some promise for improving theeffectiveness of conventional cancer therapy (specifically, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation ) or reducing its side effects. In most cases, however, thesupporting evidence remains weak, and the most rigorous studies have oftenfailed to find benefit.Note: If you are receivingcancer treatment, do not use any herbs or supplements except under thesupervision of your physician. For information on treatments to prevent cancer, see the CancerPrevention article.
Improving Survival and Quality of Life With Conventional CancerTreatmentNumerous natural therapies have been proposedfor enhancing the cancer-fighting effects of standard therapies. However, as noted above, mostof the supporting research falls short of the necessary standard for proof: a double-blind,placebo-controlled study .
Shark CartilageBased on the belief thatsharks don't get cancer, shark cartilage has been heavily marketed as a curefor cancer. While this is a myth (sharks do get cancer), shark cartilage has,in fact, shown some promise. Shark cartilage tends to inhibit the growth of newblood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. Since cancerous tumors must buildnew blood vessels to feed themselves, this effect might be beneficial. Shark cartilage also inhibits substances called matrix metalloproteases(MMPs). 1 These little understood enzymes affectthe extracellular matrix, the framework of substances that lie between cellsin the body. MMPs are thought to play a role in diseases of the cornea, gums,skin, blood vessels, and joints, as well as in cancer and illnesses that involveexcessive fibrous tissue. A number of test tube experiments havefound that shark cartilage extracts prevent new blood vessels from forming inchick embryos and other test systems. 2-7 Thesefindings have led to other test tube experiments, animal studies, andpreliminary human trials to investigate the possible anticancer effects ofshark cartilage. The results appeared to suggest that a particular liquid shark cartilageextract might be useful in the treatment of various cancers, including lung,prostate, and breast cancer. 8-15 However, the two most recent and best designed of these studies have failed to find benefit. 124,148
SocialSupport and Other Psychological FactorsCancer treatment puts tremendous stress, bothphysical and emotional, on those that undergo it. Several studies have examinedthe potential benefits of social support for women with breast cancer.According to most, but not all studies, such support improvessurvival and/or enhances quality of life. 16-18,104 In one famous study of womenwith advanced breast cancer, participants who attended a support group twiceweekly doubled their survival time as compared to study participants who didnot attend the group. 18 It is also commonly said that certain psychological coping styles (for example, fighting spirit versus helpless acceptance) can lead to longer life in people with cancer. However, a review of the evidence found that in fact there is little to no evidence that psychological attitude makes much of a difference. 105 People with cancer should not feel pressured into adopting particular coping styles to improve survival or reduce the risk of recurrence, the study's authors concluded.
Relaxation TherapiesOne study evaluated guided imagery and relaxation therapy following surgery for colon cancer. 125 The results indicated no more than a short-term, mood-elevating benefit; those receiving the treatment did not recover more quickly. Another study followed 32 women who had undergone breast cancer. 188 The women were randomized to receive just physical therapy or physical therapy plus a yoga program (called Yoga in Daily Life). At the end of the 3-week trial, the women in the yoga program reported less psychological distress. In another small trial, 31 women who were still experiencing fatigue 6 months after breast cancer treatment were randomized to yoga intervention or health education. 196 On average, those in the yoga group reported feeling less fatigue. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a technique that trains patients to become more aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and actions combine to influence their level of stress. As a result of this awareness, patients are equipped to take positive steps to reduce their stress and better cope with any challenge they may face, including a life-threatening illness. In one study, 229 women with cancer were randomized to either mindfulness training or a waitlist for 8 weeks. 197 The women who participated in the training experienced an improvement in their quality of life and general well being. It is important to keep in mind that, without a control group, it is not possible to know whether the mindfulness training itself led to these favorable outcomes. A smaller study found similar results. 195 A 2012 review of the literature found further evidence to support the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction in people with cancer. 199 The review, which included 19 studies involving 1,118 patients, focused on techniques like yoga, relaxation exercises, and mindfulness meditation. The researchers reported that these interventions resulted in improved mood and quality life. Unfortunately, the reliability of these results is limited due to the lack of having a proper control group.Music Therapy Another study on relaxation therapy involved 126 hospitalized patients with cancer pain. Researchers found that the patients who listened to relaxing music for 30 minutes and received pain medication had more relief than the group who only received the medication. 183 A systematic review of 30 trials and 1,891 cancer patients also supports the use of music therapy during cancer treatment. 187 Based on rating scales, music interventions (eg, participating in music therapy or listening to prerecorded music) resulted in less anxiety, improved mood, and better quality of life. The patients also had small reductions in their blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. But, because of bias in these trials, the authors recommend that more studies be done to confirm the findings. Massage Therapy Massage therapy has been studied for its benefits in managing the symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. In a randomized study investigating the effects of massage on 348 advanced cancer patients suffering from moderate to severe pain, the researchers found that, compared to simple touch, massage was significantly more effective at reducing pain and improving mood immediately following treatment, but the effect was not sustained. 192 The authors of a review of 10 massage therapy studies were unable to draw firm conclusions about its benefits for a wide range of symptoms in patient undergoing treatment for cancer. 191 A subsequent trial, however, offers tentative evidence that massage therapy may be helpful for people who have bone pain from cancer that has spread. Seventy-two people were randomized to receive massage therapy or simply attention from a therapist for about 40-45 minutes for 3 days in a row. 190 Those in the massage group reported less pain.
Vitamin CCancer treatmentis one of the more controversial proposed uses of vitamin C . An early studytested vitamin C in 1,100 terminally ill cancer patients. One hundred patientsreceived 10,000 mg daily of vitamin C, while the other 1,000 patients (the controlgroup) did not receive vitamin C. Those taking the vitamin C survived more than4 times longer on average (210 days) than those in the control group (50days). 19 A large (1,826 subjects) follow-upstudy by the same researchers found a nearly doubled survival rate (343 daysversus 180 days) in vitamin C-treated patients whose cancers were deemed"incurable," as compared to people not treated with vitamin C. 20 Benefits were also seen in a similarly designedJapanese study. 21 However, whilethese results seem promising—almost miraculous—they, in fact, show next tonothing because they lacked a placebo group. When proper double-blind, placebo-controlled studies wereperformed on vitamin C for cancer, they failed to find any benefit. 22,23Vitamin C proponents have criticizedthese trials on various grounds, but the fact remains that there is as yet no reliablepositive evidence for vitamin C in cancer.
PC-SPES for Prostate CancerPC-SPES is aformulation of eight natural substances: seven are plants and one is a fungus.The name is derived from the common abbreviation for prostate cancer (PC) andthe Latin word spes , meaning "hope." After itscommercial launch in 1996, PC-SPES received increasing interest from thegeneral public and prostate cancer researchers. Preliminary evidence suggestedthat it has significant effects on prostate cancer cells, perhaps due in partto its estrogen-like action. However, chemical analysis reportedin 2002 showed that PC-SPES is not truly a purely herbal product; samples ofthe product dating back to 1996 have been found to contain a form ofpharmaceutical estrogen, diethylstilbestrol (DES), as well as indomethacin (ananti-inflammatory medication in the ibuprofen family), and warfarin (a strongblood thinner). 51 Samples subsequent to 1999contain less DES; but they also have shown less effectiveness in treatingprostate cancer. There is little doubt that DES is active againstprostate cancer, but it presents a variety of risks, including blood clots inthe legs. The other two pharmaceutical contaminants might actually reduce therisk of blood clots (which may be why they were covertly added), but presentvarious risks all on their own. For these reasons, we strongly recommendagainst using PC-SPES at all.
Other Natural TreatmentsLiterally hundreds ofherbs and supplements have been shown in test tube studies to fight cancercells. However, it is a long way from a test tube to a human body, and suchfindings are not at all meaningful.In this subsection we discussseveral natural supplements that have received at least preliminary study inhumans. Keep in mind that none of the positive studies cited below reached thelevel of rigor required to truly show a treatment effective. (Most lacked a control group, for example.) In contrast, several properly designedstudies failed to find benefit. A double-blind study of 53 people undergoing cancer treatment found equivocal evidence that treatment with a special form of Panax ginseng (modified to contain higher levels of certain constituents) could improve general well-being of people with cancer. 137 Another study investigating the effects of Panax ginseng on survival of patients being treated for lung cancer showed no additional benefit. 161 One study provides indirect, but promising evidence that a mixture of the supplements coenzyme Q10 (100mg daily), riboflavin (10 mg daily) and niacin (50 mg daily) might help reduce the chance of breast cancer metastasis, or recurrence. 140 According to most but not all of the highly preliminary trials reported to date, extracts of the fungus Coriolus versicolor may enhance the effectiveness of various forms of standard cancer therapy. 96-101,106 Coriolus is thought to work by stimulating the immune system. The fungi products active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) and shiitake are also advocated for this purpose. 152,153 The supplement docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), aconstituent of fishoil , has shown promise for enhancing the effects of the cancerchemotherapy drug doxorubicin . 33 The herb ginkgo isthought to increase blood flow. An uncontrolled study evaluated combinationtherapy with ginkgo extract and the chemotherapy drug 5FU for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, on the theory that ginkgo might enhance bloodflow to the tumor and thereby help 5FU penetrate better. 35 The results were promising. Scant preliminary evidence suggests that Americanginseng may increase effectiveness of treatment for breast cancer 36 and that so-called Siberianginseng (properly know as Eleutherococcussenticosus ) may be useful in the treatment of breast cancer 37 and other forms of cancer. 38 A small unblinded study using a no-treatmentcontrol group found indications that use of a standardized tomato extractcontaining the supplement lycopene might slow the growth of prostatecancer. 34 In a small double-blind, placebo-controlled study, a combination of soy , isoflavones , lycopene, silymarin (from milk thistle ), and antioxidants showed some potential benefit for preventing recurrence of prostate cancer after prostate cancer surgery. 126 Another enrolled men with rising PSA levels (a symptom of worsening cancer) and found that use of lycopene helped stabilize these levels. 157 Unfortunately, because this study failed to include a placebo control group, its results fail to indicate that lycopene lowers PSA levels and therefore, by inference, slows prostate cancer. However, researchers did compare lycopene alone against lycopene plus isoflavones, and, interestingly, the combined treatment seemed to be less effective, as if the isoflavones somehow antagonized the effects of lycopene. Preliminary studies, including unblinded controlled trials, suggestthat the hormone melatonin may enhance the effectiveness ofstandard therapy for breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain glioblastomas,non-small-cell lung cancer, and other forms of cancer. 24-29 However, no double-blind studies have been reported. Melatonin may also help decrease cancerchemotherapy side effects ( seebelow ). 30-32,107,127Mistletoe extract (Iscador) taken by injection has been evaluated as a cancertreatment in a number of studies, including double-blind, placebo-controlledtrials. 39-46,108, 143,149,163,166 In general, though, these studies failed to attain adequate levels of scientific rigor or clinical relevance. The best studies found benefit; more rigorous studies found no improvement in survivaltime, survival rate, or quality of life. A review of 41 studies found mistletoe use was associated with improved survival in cancer patients. But, an analysis of these studies limited to randomized trials showed no effect. 175Note: The safety of mistletoe is not established, and one reportsuggests that it can damage the liver. 47 An uncontrolled study found that use of a special spleen extract (spleen peptide preparation) somewhat reduced side effects of chemotherapy for head and neck cancer. 102 In a double-blind, placebo-controlledtrial, neither vitaminA nor N-acetylcysteine proved helpful for enhancing survival in headand neck cancer or lung cancer. 49Vitamin D maydecrease bone pain and increase muscle strength in men with prostatecancer. 48 Traditional Chinese medicine has been evaluated in a number of studies in patients being treated for cancer. In one study, acupuncture has shown a bit of promise for reducing the sense of fatigue that commonly occurs in cancer. 159 Acupuncture has also been studied as a treatment for cancer-related pain. Researchers reviewed 3 small, randomized trials involving 204 people with cancer-related pain. 184 The authors concluded that there wasn't enough evidence to say that acupuncture is helpful in relieving this type of pain. More high-quality studies are needed. Similarly, medical Qigong (two 90-minute sessions weekly) was associated with improved quality of life, fatigue and mood disturbance in another study. 182 A review of 15 mostly poor quality trials involving 862 patients receiving chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer, suggested that Chinese herbal medicine might improve quality of life. 181 But, a 2010 review of 7 studies found insufficient evidence to conclude whether or not Tai Chi improves quality of life or psychological or physical outcomes in patients with breast cancer. 180 Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a type of treatment that involves the "energy field" that purported surrounds and infuses the body. A TT practitioner is said to heal or otherwise correct a patient's discomposed energy field, which is thought to treat illness and lead to overall wellness. A study involving 76 breast cancer survivors found no difference between real TT and sham touch (without healing intent) in reducing cancer-related fatigue. 194 However, both were more effective than no touch at all. One study tested whether a diet very high in vegetables, fruit, and fiber, and low in fat could enhance survival or reduce recurrence rates in women diagnosed with breast cancer; unfortunately, no benefits were seen. 150 Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapeutic technique in which small voltages of electricity are transmitted across the skin via electrodes placed at specific points on the body's surface. In a review of 3 randomized trials involving 88 people, researchers did not find evidence to support the use of TENS as a treatment for cancer pain. 198
Reducing SideEffects of ChemotherapyVarious herbs and supplementshave shown promise for reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.Many chemotherapy drugs work by interfering with rapidly dividing cells.Unfortunately, cancer cells aren’t the only cells that divide rapidly. Theintestinal tract constantly rebuilds its lining, and chemotherapy may interferewith that process. The result: gastrointestinal side effects, such as mouthsores, nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.Several herbs andsupplements have shown promise for alleviating these conditions, although nonehave been definitively proven effective.
Diarrhea and Other Gastrointestinal Side EffectsA well-designed double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 70 participantsundergoing cancer chemotherapy with the drug 5-FU evaluated thepotential benefits of the supplement glutamine forreducing chemotherapy-induced diarrhea. 52 Theresults suggest that use of glutamine at a dose of 18 g daily mayreduce intestinal damage and diminish symptoms of diarrhea. These promisingfindings indicate a need for larger trials to accurately determine the extentof benefit. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 150 peopleundergoing chemotherapy with 5-FU found some evidence that a probiotic (friendly bacteria) called Lactobacillus rhamnosus can reduce the diarrhea that is a common complication of this treatment. 156 Another, more unusual probiotic, a special, nonpathogenic form of E. coli , has also shown promise. 53 Highly preliminary evidence hints that the supplement active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) 151 and colostrum 59 have might help reduce chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal side effects. 59 In one study, use of the supplement creatine failed to help maintain muscle mass in people undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. 128
Mouth SoresIn an uncontrolled study, useof the herb chamomile mouthwash appeared to help preventmouth sores in people undergoing various forms of chemotherapy. 54 However, uncontrolled studies prove nothing. Arigorous double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 164 people did not find chamomile mouthwash effective for treating the mouthsores caused by the chemotherapy drug 5-FU. 55Beta-carotene and vitamin E have also shown some promise for preventing mouth sores (caused by variousforms of cancer treatment) in preliminary studies, but rigorous studies ofadequate size have not been reported. 56,57
NauseaA very preliminary trial hints that ginger mayreduce nausea caused by the chemotherapy drug 8-MOP. 58 However, another study failed to find ginger helpful for nausea in people using the drug cisplatin . 109 And a in a third trial, ginger did not add to the effectiveness of standard medications to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. 174Massage has shown some benefit for reducing nausea caused by chemotherapy. 142 Psychological methods such as hypnosis andrelaxation therapy have also shown promise for nausea. 60-69,155 One study found that use of aromatherapy massage (combined massage therapy and use of fragrant essential oils ) reduced symptoms of anxiety and/or depression in people undergoing treatment for cancer; at least for the short-term. 141 However, the authors of a review of 10 massage therapy studies were unable to draw firm conclusions about its benefits for a wide range of symptoms in patient undergoing treatment for cancer. 170 Studies of acupressure or acupuncture for reducing nausea in people undergoing chemotherapy have reached contradictory results, though on balance, there may be some benefit. 110-115,129,146,156,164,172 A double-blind study performed in Hong Kong evaluated the potential benefits in cancer chemotherapy of personalized herbal formulas designed according to the principles of Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine . 139 In this study, 120 people undergoing chemotherapy for early-stage breast or colon cancer were given either a personalized formula or placebo. Researchers evaluated numerous possible effects of the treatment, but found benefits in only one: reduction of nausea. Note that even this single result is less meaningful than it may seem; it is statistically questionable to use a multiplicity of outcome measures.
Other Side Effects of ChemotherapyIn highly preliminary trials, the supplement N-acetylcysteine has shown promise for reducingvarious side effects of the drug ifosfamide. 70-74 An animal study suggests that aconstituent of fishoil called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) might decrease side effectscaused by the drug irenotecan. 75 The hormone melatonin hasshown some promise for reducing the side effects of various chemotherapydrugs. 76,77,116 In preliminary studies, various antioxidants have shown promise for preventing heart damage and other side effects of the drug doxorubicin. See the Doxorubicin article for details. One animal study hintsthat the herb milkthistle might protect against kidney damage caused by the drug cisplatin . 82 In addition, there is some evidence that acetyl-L-carnitine, glutamine, and vitamin E supplementation might each reduce peripheral neuropathy symptoms in patients (painful damage to nerves outside the spinal column) receiving cisplatin or paclitaxel. 130,169,179Sea buckthorn berry has been advocated for reducing side effects of chemotherapy, but the evidence that it works is far too preliminary to be relied upon at all. A review of 33 studies supports the view that antioxidants in general (with the exception of vitamin A) may reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy. However, due to inconsistencies among these studies, it is unclear which antioxidants are best for this purpose. 168 The herb guarana may help to improve fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. 193 In a small randomized trial of 43 breast cancer patients, 6 weeks of acupuncture twice weekly reduced joint pain attributed to aromatase-inhibitor therapy. 177 The Homeopathy Database also has information about this topic.
Reducing SideEffects of Radiation TherapyAlthough the symptoms aregenerally less intense than with chemotherapy, radiation therapy can also causeproblems, such as diarrhea, skin damage, and fatigue. Certain supplements and alternative therapies mayoffer benefit. Two double-blind, placebo-controlled studies enrolling a total of almost 700 people undergoing radiation therapy found that use of probiotics significantly improved diarrhea. 83, 145 However, of 85 women receiving pelvic radiation for cervical or uterine cancer, those who consumed a probiotic enriched yogurt had no less diarrhea than those who took a placebo drink. 162 An unblinded controlled study of 75 people receiving radiation therapyfor various forms of cancer found some evidence that soap enriched with Aloevera gel can help protect the skin from radiationdamage. 84 However, researchers had to usequestionable statistical methods to find evidence of benefit, making theresults less than fully reliable. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study thatevaluated the effects of aloe gel in 225 women undergoing radiation therapy forbreast cancer failed to find benefit. 85 Another study failed to find aloe vera beneficial for reducing side effects of radiation therapy for head and neck cancer. 118 One study compared cream made from calendula flowers with the standard treatment trolamine for protecting the skin during radiation therapy and found calendula more effective. 119 However, it is not known whether trolamine is beneficial, neutral, or harmful when used for this purpose, and for this reason it's not possible to draw firm conclusions from the study. Cream made from chamomile has also been tried for protecting the skin from damage caused by radiation therapy, but the one controlled trial on the subject failed to find benefit. 86 One study failed to find oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) from grape seed helpful for reducing the local side effects of radiation therapy for breast cancer. 131 Radiation treatment in the vicinity ofthe mouth may cause alterations in taste sensation. In a small double-blind,placebo controlled trial, use of zinc supplements tended to counter this symptom. 87 However, a larger follow-up study failed to find this benefit. 147 One small study did find found that use of zinc could modestly decrease inflammation of the mucous membranes and skin caused by radiation therapy. 138 Radiation treatment to the pelvic areacan cause nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. A double-blind, placebo-controlledtrial with 56 participants evaluated the potential effectiveness of proteolyticenzymes for reducing these symptoms. 88 Unfortunately, no benefits were seen. Another study failed to find proteolytic enzymes helpful for reducing mouth sores or other symptoms that occur during radiation therapy of head/neck cancers. 144 In a double-blind study of 40 people undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, use of a standard multivitamin preparation failed to reduce fatigue as compared to placebo. 154 (In fact, people in the placebo group may have done somewhat better than those given the vitamin.) A large study failed to find aromatherapy more helpful than placebo for reducing psychological distress among people undergoing radiation therapy for cancer. 120 And a small randomized trial found that effleurage massage , a common massage technique, had no significant effect on anxiety, depression, or quality of life among 22 women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. 165 As with chemotherapy, sea buckthorn berry has been advocated for reducing side effects of radiation therapy, but again reliable evidence is lacking. The use of antioxidants during radiation therapy is controversial. One study found that use of antioxidants decreased radiation therapy side effects, but may have decreased radiation therapy effectiveness as well. 132 In a small trial, patients who wore acupressure bands for up to 7 days following radiation therapy reported less nausea than patients who received only usual care. 176 A systematic review of 3 randomized trials involving 123 people with head and neck cancer found that real acupuncture was more effective than sham (fake) acupuncture in reducing the risk of dry mouth (xerostomia) due to radiation therapy. 186 A subsequent study also supports the use of acupuncture in reducing dry mouth in such patients. But, unlike the previous trial, this one compared acupuncture to standard care (rather than to sham treatment). 189 This topic is also discussed in the Homeopathy Database , in the radiation therapy support chapter.
Treating Side Effects Caused byBreast Cancer SurgeryMany women experience lymphedema(chronic arm swelling caused by damage to the lymph drainage system) followingbreast cancer surgery. Natural treatments for this condition include oxerutins , citrusbioflavonoids , and OPCs . Formore information see the Surgery Support article. Another small randomized trial of 70 patients found that acupuncture may decrease dry mouth and pain after removing lymph nodes in the neck for cancer treatment. 178
HotFlashes After MastectomyWomen who have had breast cancersurgery frequently experience annoying hot flashes. Estrogen treatment is notan option, as it might increase the risk of cancer recurrence. Ina 2-month, double-blind trial, 85 women who had undergone treatment for breastcancer received either the herb black cohosh or placebo. 89 The results were notencouraging: black cohosh did not reduce overall hot-flash symptoms. Four double-blind, placebo-controlled trials evaluated soy isoflavones as atreatment for hot flashes, but again failed to find benefit. 90,91,121,133 A trial involving 72 breast cancer patients failed to find real acupuncture significantly more effective than sham acupuncture for treatment of hot flashes. 160 And, a 2008 review of all existing studies on the subject concluded that the evidence does not support a beneficial effect for acupuncture in breast cancer patients suffering from hot flashes. 173 In a small randomized trial, hypnosis appeared to reduce hot flashes as well as improve mood and sleep among 51 breast cancer survivors compared no hypnosis. 171
Other Side Effects Caused byBreast Cancer SurgeryAfter a mastectomy, some women develop wound complications. Ninety women who had undergone a mastectomy were randomized to receive 1 of 3 treatments: routine wound care, the Chinese herbSalvia miltiorrhiza (given intravenously for 3 days), or another Chinese herb called anisodamine (also given intravenously for 3 days). 185 The women who received the herbal treatments had fewer wound complications compared to those in the routine wound care group. But, the women who took anisodamine had more adverse effects related to the treatment, like painful urination.
Treating Weight Loss Caused by Cancer or Cancer TreatmentCancer can cause a condition called tumor-induced weight loss (TIWL), in which symptoms of starvation occur despite apparently adequate nutrition. The cause is thought to be a particular form of inflammation caused by the cancer. Cancer chemotherapy can also cause weight loss.For information on natural treatments that may be helpful, see the Undesired Weight Loss article.
Cancer CuresNumerous herbs have been claimed effective for treatment of cancer, including:
- Flaxseed (based on lignan content)
- Red clover
Herbs and Supplements to Use Only With Caution
Herb and Supplement Interactions With Specific Cancer DrugsVarious herbs and supplements may interact adversely with drugs used to treat cancer. We strongly recommend that individuals under treatment for cancer do not use any herb or supplement except under physician’s supervision. A few important categories of potential interactions are described here. Follow the links to the indicated article for detailed information. The herb St. John’s wort interacts with many medications, including various chemotherapy drugs. The drug methotrexate causes the body to become deficient in folate . For this reason, people who take methotrexate for rheumatoid arthritis , juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or psoriasis are sometimes advised to take folate supplements. Studies indicate that in those conditions, use of folate does not impair the action of the drug. However, no studies have as yet established that folate supplements are safe to take with methotrexate when it is used to treat cancer. The citrus bioflavonoid tangeretin may interact with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen . One highly preliminary study found that black cohosh might interfere with the action of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin . 134
The Antioxidant ControversyHeated disagreement exists regarding whether it is safe or appropriate to combine antioxidants (eg, vitamin E , vitamin C , and beta-carotene ) with standard chemotherapy drugs. The reasoning behind the concern is that some chemotherapy drugs may work in part by creating free radicals that destroy cancer cells, and antioxidants might interfere with this beneficial effect. 94 There is little reliable evidence, though, that antioxidants interfere with chemotherapy drugs. Additionally, there is growing evidence that antioxidants may not cause harm and, in certain cases, may offer benefits. 95,104,122,135 However, the effects are likely to vary with the specific situation (for example, type and stage of cancer, and kind of treatment used), and there is far more research to be done. 123 Therefore, we strongly recommend that you do not take antioxidants (or any other supplements) while undergoing cancer chemotherapy except on the advice of a physician. A similar situation exists regarding radiation therapy. One study found that use of antioxidants decreased radiation therapy side effects, but may have decreased radiation therapy effectiveness as well. 136 Another study found some evidence that people who both smoked cigarettes and used antioxidants while undergoing radiation therapy for head and neck cancer had increased risk of treatment failure as compared to smokers who did not use antioxidants. 158 After reviewing much of the research on this controversial topic, one group of researchers published an article in the Journal of National Cancer Institute , in which they conclude that antioxidants should be discouraged during either chemotherapy or radiation therapy because of their potential to reduce the effectiveness of these treatments. 167
Herbs That May Increase Breast Cancer Recurrence RiskWomen who havehad breast cancer are at high risk for a recurrence. As noted above, use ofestrogen promotes the development of breast cancer, and for this reason it isoff limits. However, certain natural products may present a similar risk.Numerous herbs and supplements have estrogen-like properties, including thefollowing: blackcohosh is probably not estrogenic. Othersupplements, such as androstenedione and boron , mayraise estrogen levels in the body. Finally, although the herbs dong quai and Panaxginseng do not appear to act in an estrogen-like manner,they may nonetheless stimulate growth of breast cancer cells. 92 Women who have undergone breast cancer surgeryshould use these herbs and supplements only under the advice of a physician. The weak estrogen, estriol , issometimes advocated by alternative practitioners as a safer choice thanstandard estrogen. However, test tube studies suggest that estriol is just aslikely to cause breast cancer as any other form of estrogen. 93
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- Reviewer: EBSCO CAM Review Board
- Review Date: 07/2012
- Update Date: 08/03/2012