Non-communicable diseases such as cancer are emerging as a major threat to public health in India. According to an ICMR report, the number of people in the country suffering from cancer is expected to increase from 26.7 million in 2021 to 29.8 million in 2025. While standard and conventional medical care is the preferred treatment choice for cancer by medical experts, some people are gradually deviating to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to get relief. In fact, a survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology revealed that 40 percent of people in the US believe that cancer can be cured with alternative therapies alone.
Though complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are usually thought of as the same therapy approaches, in reality, they are different. Dr. Babina NM, Chief Medical Officer, Jindal Naturecure Institute draws out the differences.
- Complementary Medicine: It is used in combination with conventional or standard medicine and serves to improve quality of life by relieving symptoms.
- Alternative Medicine: It is used instead of standard medical treatment.
As more research and studies are conducted on the efficacy and safety of CAM treatments, healthcare professionals around the world are including them within their treatment plans to help cancer patients in a better way.
Types of complementary and alternative therapies for cancer
There are different types of complementary and alternative therapies which can be used for the treatment of cancer. These are:
- Music Therapy
- Tai Chi
- Physical Activity
Yoga and naturopathy can take an active role in supporting cancer treatment
In 2019, a study was published by researchers at the Indo- American Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Hyderabad exploring yoga and naturopathy as means of supporting conventional cancer chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma happens to be a form of cancer that usually affects the lymphatic system and white blood cells.
The study involved 100 participants (all undergoing chemotherapy) suffering from early-stage non-Hodgkin lymphoma. 50 patients were allocated to a treatment group, while the rest were allocated to a control group.
The patients in the treatment group received naturopathic treatments like hydrotherapy, massage, mud pack treatments and a naturopathic vegetarian diet. They also took part in yoga practices like asanas, breathing exercises and meditation techniques.
The patients in the control group received a standard diet and psychosocial counselling.
The key findings from the study:
- Patients in the treatment group showed improvement in psychological wellbeing, including reduced depression, anxiety and distress. There was also a significant reduction in the side effects of the cancer treatment.
- Patients in the treatment group had a significant increase in haemoglobin levels.
- The psychological benefits continued to be significant even after nine months after the commencement of treatment.
Naturopathic tips for cancer patients
Unlike conventional treatment that can lead to a host of side effects in cancer patients, naturopathy is based on natural modes of treatment and causes zero side effects. It can be integrated with the ongoing care of cancer patients to provide them comfort.
“The chemotherapy offered to cancer patients can cause the lining of the mouth and the digestive tract to become tender and slough off. It can also result in diarrhoea. Immunity can be restored by changing the diet. The diet of cancer patients can include kale, spinach, zucchini, celery, onions, carrots, potatoes, parsley and tomatoes to help them with the required amount of electrolytes," says Dr Babina.
Fatigue and exhaustion can also be overcome by enriching the diet with black beans or dark green leafy vegetables in the daily diet.
“Acupuncture can also be used as a healing and restorative therapy for cancer survivors and patients. It is especially useful in the management of hot flashes, pain, inflammation, insomnia, immune system modulation, anxiety, dry mouth, vomiting and nausea," opines Dr. Babina.
Studies have also shown that massage therapy can help relieve pain in cancer patients. It may also help reduce fatigue, anxiety and stress.
While CAM therapies can be an excellent way of supplementing conventional ways of cancer treatment, it is always advisable to consult the doctor before starting such therapies.