One of the great challenges for the scientific community is finding a solution to cancer. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. According to statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second cause of death in the world, one in six deaths are due to this disease. In the United States, statistics also show cancer as the second leading cause of death after heart attacks. Although it, there has been significant scientific that has allowed increasing the survival rate in cancer patients. Additionally, Cancer has high economic costs. For example, WHO indicates that in 2010, the economic impact of this disease was $ 1.16 trillion.
However, scientific development has not yet found a solution to prevent and eliminate cancer disease. Some scientific treatments have been developed that are usually effective depending on the degree of disease progression. The absence of a definitive solution leads many patients to be interested or search for alternative treatment to conventional treatments, mainly due to the traditional treatments side effects.
The main traditional or conventional treatments are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Each procedure is used depending on the type and stage of cancer. Treatments can be a combination of them, causing to have some common side effects among them.
It is considered that the more complex procedure is surgery, it has a greater risk of side effects. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) points out other factors that affect side effects are the type and location of cancer, type of surgery, other treatments that are received before surgery, such as chemotherapy, and the general health of the person.
The main side effect of surgeries is the pain. It depends on the magnitude of the pain, normally it can be managed with analgesics. Another side effect is Fatigue (asthenia). Fatigue or tiredness is the sensation of physical, mental exhaustion permanently. Asthenia is defined as a weakness, lack of energy and strength, and loss of strength. Myasthenia, another surgery side effect, is the loss of muscle strength. It is one of the most common effects and it is considered that it can affect up to 90% of patients. Other surgery effects are, but not limited to:
Chemotherapy is the most used procedure in cancer treatment, although it will depend on the type of cancer and how advanced the cancer is. Fatigue is one of the main side effects of chemotherapy. Pain is another of the most common side effect. Pain can include:
Chemotherapy could also cause digestive toxicity, which symptoms are nausea and vomiting; cutaneous toxicity, in which the forms of dermatitis and alopecia stand out; and renal and neuralgic toxicity.
Radiotherapy is a local or focalized treatment; the side effect is limited to the site where the tumor is located. Skin problems are some of the side effects that some people who receive radiation therapy have; mainly skin dryness, itching or peeling skin, or blisters. Another side effect is fatigue. Fatigue and skin problems are considered not to have a big impact on the patients, due that in most of the cases they disappear within a few weeks. Radiotherapy can have side effects of the long-term, which may even cause or be due to recurrence of cancer.
Generally, people considered alternative and complementary treatment to be indistinct. However, they refer to two different methods. Alternative treatments refer to the methods that claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. Complementary treatments refer to methods that help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life during cancer treatment. They are called complementary because they are used along with your medical treatment.
Cancer Research UK Organization defines complementary treatment as the means a patient can use with conventional medical treatment that may help them to feel better and cope in a better way with their cancer and the treatment. They differentiate complementary treatment from alternative treatment by defining the second one as methods or therapies used instead of traditional or conventional medical treatments.
Natural Products: Natural products include all the different medicines that are produced from herbs, vitamins, minerals, etc. This category also includes probiotics, that are live microorganisms (in general, bacteria) like microorganisms, normally found in the human digestive tract and that may have beneficial effects. It is estimated that 17.7% of adults in the United States has used a natural product (non-vitamin or mineral) in 2007. Natural products are the most common alternative medicine product.
Medicine of the mint, and the body: It is the type of medicine that focuses on the interaction between brain, body, mind, and behavior in order that the mind affects physical functions and improve health. Here stand out, meditation, yoga, and acupuncture. Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services (NHIS) show that therapies of this type are commonly used. For example, 12.7 percent of adults had done deep breathing exercises, 9.4 percent meditation, and 6.1 percent yoga.
Methods of manipulation and body-based: They are based on the structures and systems of the body, emphasizing, the bones and the joints, the soft tissues and the lymphatic and circulatory system. The two main therapies that stand out in this category are manipulation of the spine and massage therapy. Statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services (NHIS) show that 8.6% of adults and 2.8% of children used some chiropractic or osteopathic therapy in 2007 and 8.3% of adults and 1% of children used a massage therapy.
The categorization of the NCCAM includes movement therapies that are based on movement to promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Among these types of therapies are the Feldenkrais method, the Alexander technique, Pilates, the structural integration of Rolfing, and the psychophysical integration of Trager. Statistics of NHIS (2007) show that 1.5% of adults and 0.4% of children used movement therapies. Traditional healers use methods and knowledge obtained through different generations. The main techniques of alternative or complementary therapy are:
Acupuncture – It is part of Chinese ancestral medicine. It is defined as a full health technique that has its foundation in traditional Chinese medicine practices. In acupuncture trained practitioners stimulate specific points on the body by inserting thin needles into the skin. It is used to resolve the side effects of traditional treatments, such as nausea and vomiting, pain, depression, lack of appetite, gastrointestinal problems.
Botanicals/Herbal Products – It is considered that 25% of the prescribed conventional medicines have their origin in medicinal herbs. Among the herbs highlights marijuana (cannabis) through its influence on the nervous system can help control nausea and vomiting, relieve pain, increase appetite and improve sleep loss.
Hypnosis – Hypnosis is a deep state of concentration. It can help relieve anxiety, nausea, and vomiting, pain, stress, etc. “During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist may hypnotize you by talking in a gentle voice and helping you relax. The therapist will then help you focus on goals, such as controlling your pain and reducing your stress”. Hypnosis can help relieve anxiety, nausea, and vomiting, pain, stress, etc.
There are negative views on the effectiveness of the CAM. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) argues that based on a study, it was shown that patients with no metastatic breast, lung or colorectal cancer that had alternatives treatment had a significant worst survival rate than patients what were treated with conventional cancer treatments.
Another article discovered that a man used an alternative medicine based on Apricots kernels, which contain a substance known to be laetrile that has become an “alternative” cancer treatment despite there being no scientific evidence backing it up. After years of using this medicine in doses significantly higher than those recommended, he suffered from cyanide poisoning.
Some authors in their criticism of alternative medicine compare it with concepts such as effective placebo or in some cases as a fraud. Regarding the placebo effect, it is defined as substance or medicament that doesn’t have any pharmacological effect in a patient other than providing the patient the satisfaction that comes from taking a medication. Fraud is considered as those alternative products that are sold knowing that they will not be effective, mainly in cases of patients with a high degree of disease progression.
In doctors and scientist, there is a consensus on the benefits of non-traditional medicine as a complement to traditional medicine to lessen the side effects of cancer treatments. Further studies are needed to determine their effectiveness as alternative cancer treatments.