Alternative Medicine and Cancer


Interest in Alternative Approaches to Cancer is Growing

Studies and polls in the U.S. indicate a steadily rising acceptance of alternative medicine as a treatment option for disease. The first major indication of this shift appeared in 1993 in a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. This article reported that, based on interviews with 1,539 Americans, 34% had used at least one "unconventional" practitioner in 1990, and that one third of these had seen an exclusively alternative physician an average of 19 times in that year. The study also revealed that 72% of those consulting alternative physicians did not tell their conventional doctor of this choice. On the basis of this poll, the researchers estimated that Americans made 425 million office visits to alternative practitioners, spending about $13.7 billion, of which $10.3 billion was out of their own pockets.

In 1992, U.S. government data showed that the number of alternative medicine offices grew by 163% over the previous five years compared to that of conventional doctors, which grew by only 56%. Between 1987 and 1992, the second fastest growing field in U.S. health care was alternative medicine, second only to home health care. In 1994, Self Magazine reported that 84% of its readers had consulted an alternative medicine physician and 36% said they had more faith in alternative medicine than in conventional. In 1995, 41% of people living in the San Francisco Bay Area tried alternative medicine at least once, 54% said they were "very satisfied" with the results, and 80% said they would do it again.

Confidence in the efficacy of alternative medicine as a treatment option for cancer is similarly growing. The American Cancer Society estimates that 9% of U.S. cancer patients use complementary therapies, although other researchers place the figures higher at 10% to 60%. A study undertaken at New York Hospital revealed that about 30% of breast cancer patients polled said they had consulted an alternative practitioner while 25% were currently receiving some form of "unconventional" therapy such as shark cartilage, medicinal mushrooms, Chinese herbs, or vitamin injections.

Yet another study estimated that from 10% to 50% of cancer patients try some form of alternative or complementary care; the same study reported that 5% of cancer patients abandon conventional treatment in favor of alternative approaches. Estimates by the U.S. government place annual expenditures on alternative cancer treatments at $2 billion. Based on the most conservative estimate that 10% of U.S. cancer patients consult alternative practitioners every year, this means that at least 100,000 cancer patients are under alternative care or using alternative substances as part of a cancer treatment program.


Basic Tenets of Alternative Medicine

Although alternative medicine includes a wide range of treatment options of varying approaches, all the therapies are based on a common philosophy that includes the following elements:

  • Focuses on empowering you to accept responsibility for at least part of the task of recovery and health maintenance in the future
  • Emphasizes the importance of nutrition as an essential requirement for good health
  • Considers a balanced lifestyle (proper exercise, sleep, relaxation, and emotional tranquility) a prerequisite for optimum health
  • Attempts to ensure the efficiency of your body's organs and organ systems (through detoxification, nutritional supplements, and related whole-body approaches)
  • Recognizes that your musculoskeletal system provides a vital link between nerve transmission and energy pathways and is in direct relationship with internal and emotional states
  • Treats you rather than your symptoms

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