October 1, 2008

Going Beyond a Traditional Approach Advocates Say Holistic Treatments Help Balance Mental, Spiritual and Physical Needs of Patients



Fighting breast cancer - or any cancer, for that matter - is about employing the best weapons modern medicine has to offer.

But there are a growing number of people - including medical experts and survivors - who urge cancer victims to add the arsenal of non-traditional medical and spiritual therapies.

In fact, such methods - from acupuncture and yoga to herbal treatments and prayer - can go a long way toward treating the negative side effects of chemo, radiation, surgery and other traditional medical approaches.

The key is finding a balance between traditional and alternative forms, said multiple breast cancer survivor Bobbi de Cordova-Hanks.

"You have to be well-rounded," said the founder of Bosom Buddies, a support network for breast cancer victims. "You have to take care of the spiritual side, the mental side and the physical side - all of that."

The growing acceptance of holistic treatments prompted the National Cancer Institute, a federal agency created more than 70 years ago, to open its own Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 1998, said its director, Jeffrey D. White.


Author Hester Hill Schnipper writes in After Breast Cancer: A Common Sense Guide to Life After Treatment, that $92 million was devoted to researching alternative and complementary therapies in the early 1990s. White said his office alone budgeted $122 million on clinical and other studies in 2007.

Researchers are studying acupuncture, nutrition and other therapies mostly for their effectiveness in managing cancer symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments, such as the nausea, fatigue and hot flashes often caused by treatments such as chemotherapy.

"We are still waiting for large-scale clinical trials . . . and we don't have numbers for it," White said of complementary treatment. But "we have several control trials indicating its effectiveness."

Still, some physicians continue to resist, concerned cancer victims may be tempted to reject altogether conventional medical approaches to treatment.

And some herbal supplements are unregulated, "so you don't always know what the contents are," White said.

Jacksonville acupuncturist and herbalist Sandy Evans said she occasionally comes across patients whose doctors look down on the practice, but that attitude seems to be fading.

Partly that's because she is up front with clients that she is not there to treat their cancer or rid them of it, but to treat symptoms and side effects from radiation, chemo and surgery, said Evans, who practices at Yoga Ananda Yoga and Wellness Center in Avondale and at Advanced Acupuncture Center in Fleming Island.


Evans said she regularly and successfully treats cancer patients, including many with breast cancer, for dry mouth, dizziness, night sweats, fatigue, pain, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, depression and vomiting.

To perform acupuncture, practitioners must pass national board exams and be licensed by the state.

A vast majority of patients see the acupuncture and herbal approaches as "an adjunct" to the cancer-fighting strategies they've adopted with their physicians, Evans said.

"I tell them right up front that, by law, I can't treat their cancer," she said.

East Arlington resident Linda Cornelio has been in remission from breast cancer for seven years. Part of the credit for that, she said, she owes to acupuncture and herbal remedies.

She said she suffered horribly through chemo and radiation treatments - therapies she endured without acupuncture because she didn't know about the practice.

"I wish I had known," Cornelio said. Some of her friends in Bosom Buddies used acupuncture before and during chemo and radiation "and they've sailed right through treatment with hardly any side effects."[email protected], (904) 359-4310

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