The side effects of cancer treatment often cause as much or more pain than cancer itself. Nausea, extreme fatigue, headaches, body aches, hair loss, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal issues, and blood complications are just a few of the side effects that deteriorate a chemotherapy recipient’s quality of life.
Doctors typically prescribe pharmaceuticals to manage pain associated with cancer treatment. These expensive drugs add to the financial stress of battling cancer, which already costs a patient tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and have negative side effects of their own.
Conventional treatments often have permanent side effects like organ damage, impaired cognitive function, and nervous system damage. They even increase the likelihood a patient will develop a second cancer later in life, as explained on Cancer.net.
Unbeknownst to many facing a cancer diagnosis, viable alternative treatment options exist. Some of these noninvasive, holistic treatments have the potential to eliminate certain forms of cancer altogether, and others —when used in conjunction with conventional treatment such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — vastly improve a patient’s quality of life without the use of expensive prescriptions.
Every person’s body is different, and no treatment option is a guaranteed cure. Cancer patients shouldn’t necessarily go against the advice of their doctor in pursuit of an alternative treatment. They should, however, have access to information about noninvasive alternatives to traditional treatment, palliative care and pain management. Here are eight natural cancer treatments available.
Medical cannabis is known to reduce nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy patients, according to the American Cancer Society’s website, but recent studies suggest its potency extends far beyond its current use.
Cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis, are an important avenue for current cancer research.
Cannabinoids are also produced by the human body — they are vital to the function of the endocannabinoid system, a complex chemical communication system, according to a Scholastic article. Cannabinoids, chemical messengers made by fat cells, bind to cannabinoid receptors on the outsides of cells to communicate important information from the brain to the body and vice versa.
Cannabinoids also bind to cancerous cells — by disrupting lines of communication, cannabinoids from medical cannabis have the potential to inhibit the growth of tumor cells or even kill them, according to a Conversation article.
Glioma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, is one target of this research. A study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics explored how certain cannabinoids that naturally occur in cannabis effect tumors in mice with glioma. Tumors in mice that received both cannabinoid treatment and irradiation treatment shrunk significantly when compared to those in mice given one treatment or the other.
So far, successful results have only been seen with lab mice. More research is needed before a human treatment can be developed.
Cannabis may also have positive implications for skin cancer. Testimonials abound on the internet from skin cancer patients who used DIY cannabis oil treatment to cure their cancer. The author of a United Patients Group article laments that “official” science has yet to catch up.
Some formal research has yielded positive results — like this study published in Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology — but more needs to be done before medical doctors consider cannabis oil a viable treatment option for skin cancers.
2. Olive Oil
Eradicating cancer cells in about 30 minutes may seem a bit far-fetched. But nearly everyone has this miracle cancer cure in their kitchen cupboard — olive oil.
As explained in a Medical Daily article, when researchers exposed cancer cells to oleocanthal, an antioxidant compound found in olive oil, the cancer cells underwent apoptosis — “cell suicide” — within 30 minutes to an hour. Typically, this process takes 16 to 24 hours.
Upon further analysis and observation, the researchers found that oleocanthal attacks cancer cells’ lysosomes, or their biochemical waste baskets. According to the Medical Daily article, cancer cells’ lysosomes are larger and more unstable than those of healthy cells. In effect, they are like the Achilles heal of cancer cells.
Oleocanthal doesn’t harm healthy cells. They fall asleep for a little while after exposure, but wake up the next day as if nothing had happened.
More research is needed before doctors can start using oleocanthal to treat cancer. At present, the evidence supports claims that olive oil consumption helps prevent cancer.
“We think oleocanthal could explain reduced [cancer] incidence in Mediterranean diets where consumption is high,” says David Foster, one of the researchers, in the Medical Daily article. “And it is also possible that purified (higher-dose) could possibly be used therapeutically.”
3. Acupuncture and Acupressure
Acupuncture and acupressure treatments rest on the idea that energy flows through the body along certain pathways called meridians. Blockages in these meridians are associated with pain and illness. Acupuncturists use needles to unblock meridians, whereas acupressurists exert pressure.
For cancer patients, acupuncture serves as an alternative to drugs that treat the side effects of chemotherapy and helps speed postoperative recovery, according to an article from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture (AAMA).
The same article details a UCLA study where, over the course of two years, cancer patients received acupuncture between chemotherapy treatments. Researchers saw a significant reduction in nausea and vomiting in the patients who received acupuncture compared to others who didn’t. In effect, the study demonstrated the efficacy of acupuncture as a viable alternative to expensive drug cocktails typically prescribed to chemotherapy recipients to treat nausea.
Proponents for acupuncture say it has benefits beyond pain management. According to the AAMA article, acupuncture directs energy, or qi, to diseased parts of the body and encourages healing.
According to Dr. Julia Tsuei, MD, this side of acupuncture — often denounced as a “belief system” — does not fit with Western medicine because it can’t be explained bio-physically or bio-chemically. Rather, energy meridians concern fields such as electromagnetism, physics, bio-energy and quantum mechanics. Research on the subject from these angles is as of yet insufficient to provide scientific “proof” of the existence of qi and energy meridians.
“Reiki” is a Japanese term that can be loosely translated as “spiritually guided life force energy,” according to Reiki.org. Reiki practitioners tap into life force energy in the body to promote healing and relaxation. In a Reiki session, a practitioner administers energy by resting his or her hands on various places on recipient’s body for minutes at a time.
According to Cancer.org, Reiki can be used in cancer treatments to help patients relax, cope with the emotional stress of a struggle with cancer, and promote a sense of general wellbeing. Studies also indicate, for some patients, that Reiki reduces the amount of pain and anxiety they feel. It does not, however, reduce the amount of pain medication patients take.
Reiki practitioners and advocates maintain that Reiki is more central to the healing process than studies suggest. For example, when Michael McCarty, a Reiki practitioner, was diagnosed with throat cancer, he went off the medications he was using to cope with the painful side effects of radiology treatment and switched to self-administered Reiki and homeopathic remedies.
McCarty writes that while the pain medication simply knocked him out for a few hours, Reiki allowed him to accept and take control of his pain. It also helped him to maintain a positive attitude, which, according to his doctor, is the most important thing in beating cancer.
McCarty recommends Reiki as a “complement” to radiology treatment.
In 1995, an independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) evaluated different behavioral and relaxational approaches to pain management in medicine, according to Cancer.org. Hypnosis was one of the “approaches” evaluated by the panel.
“The panel found strong evidence for the use of relaxation techniques in reducing chronic pain in a variety of medical conditions as well as strong evidence for the use of hypnosis in alleviating pain associated with cancer,” concluded the panelists in an abstract summarizing their findings on the NIH website.
When someone is hypnotized, the hypnotherapist has the opportunity to make “suggestions” to his or her unconscious mind, write the panelists. In the case of a cancer patient suffering from the painful side effects of treatment, the hypnotherapist may suggest analgesia, or the absence of the sense of pain.
Hypnotherapy can also help cancer patients manage depression, anxiety and stress associated with their condition, according to Cancer Research UK.
Slipping in a pool of sweat on your way into downward dog or falling on your head out of crow pose are just a few of yoga’s many — and sometimes embarrassing — challenges. But doing yoga every day could save your life.
According to an article by health educator and professor Dr. Joel E. Brame, practicing yoga regularly, or taking “little steps done over and over again,” may prevent cancer in the long run.
Yoga stimulates the lymphatic system, or the body’s army of trash collectors that clean out our organs. This evicts toxins camping out in the body that, if left alone, may have led to cancer.
In yoga, we breathe, sweat, twist, compress, stretch, hang upside down, empty our minds and engage our muscles and organs. According to Brame, these techniques turn the human body into an unwelcome environment for cancer by reducing acidity within the body, detoxing the organs, re-oxygenating the body, reducing stress, and promoting mindfulness.
Meditation has been proven to reduce mental and physical stress in cancer patients. It also helps patients manage pain.
Through breathing, emptying the mind and relaxing the body, meditation allows patients to cultivate detached awareness of physical sensations and cope with pain accordingly, according to the NIH website.
Mindful meditation, or focusing on the present moment, helps cancer patients deal with depression, anxiety and stress, according to Cancer Research UK.
There is no formal evidence to show meditation can prevent, treat or cure cancer, and it is recommended primarily as a supplement to treatment.