Cancer: Can Complementary Medicine Help?

Experts say a number of therapies can help in the treatment of cancer and its side effects

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

All any patient with cancer wants is healing and to reduce side effects during and after treatment. An increasing number of patients consider and turn to complementary medicine.

Physician Sanford Levy, who practices integrative medicine in Buffalo, said that some cancer patients come to his practice for improving their health overall — and thus improve their chances of beating cancer with traditional care. Still others come to him after conventional care can no longer offer them help and they’re facing hospice care.

“They want to live longer and better,” he said. “I have options, but how often it will make a difference for those hospice-bound patients is few and far between.”

He thinks many more cancer patients are turning to complementary medicine and that’s why more Western practitioners are integrating various modalities into their practices.

“Focusing on coping with conventional treatment is the biggest area where the two are being blended together,” Levy said.

Gaining support for the journey through cancer draws patients to Invision Health in Williamsville, according to Linda Ann Taylor, board certified adult nurse practitioner at Invision Health.

“They want help in getting through traditional treatments,” she said. “Others have a huge history of cancer and are worried could they have that risk down the road, so we have tests we can do.”

While no one can guarantee they can prevent cancer, maintaining vitamin D levels, eating right, exercising and reducing any controllable factors may help reduce risk.

“It’s about making better choices to make your body healthier,” Taylor said.

Rob Jones, board member of Buffalo Wellness, also serves as executive director of the Breast Cancer Network of WNY. He said that many people at risk for cancer or who have a diagnosis want to find things they can control. “When they’re in treatment and being told what to do when to do it and what to take, they lose control. With complementary care, they can pick and choose.”

He also sees benefits to patients’ general wellness by improving mood and bolstering their baseline health.

“Many classes like yoga and tai chi can provide camaraderie, so that gives them a sense of community,” Jones said.

Physician Joanne Wu is a certified yoga instructor and integrative wellness coach, board certified in rehabilitation medicine and holistic medicine, specializing in wellness. She sees clients in Buffalo and other lcoations.

She’s part of the integrative oncology program of Wilmot Cancer Center, affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester.

“Patients’ bodies are changing so rapidly,” Wu said. “They need a lot of support.”

Since treatments like chemotherapy and radiation kill healthy and malignant cells, they take a toll on patients’ bodies. Wu said that using complementary modalities helps mitigate these effects.

“Co-morbidity like depression, anxiety, nerve damage that increase falls are common side effects not well managed with the traditional model,” Wu said.

Acupuncture often helps control pain. Yoga, as another example, reduces stress, depression and anxiety, while improving sleep.

Every cancer patient should discuss any complementary medicine treatment before attempting it to ensure it will augment and not hinder the traditional Western treatment they’re undergoing. Their complementary practitioner should also know about the Western treatment they receive.