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Cancer and Alternative Therapy

"The cure of many diseases is unknown to physicians. They are ignorant of the whole which ought to be studied also; for the part can never be well unless the whole is well. This is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body that the physician separates the soul from the body." (Plato)

"The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore, thy physician must start from nature, with an open mind." (Paracelsus)

"Nature, time and patience are the three great physicians." (Proverbs)

I want to make one thing clear right from the start - No alternative remedies have been proven to cure cancer and certainly not Aromatherapy. There is no medical research into the subject of cancer which has indicated that any of the alternative therapies (or alternative medicine) will cure cancer. Indeed, even mainstream medicine is finding this a tough job. It is, therefore, not my intention to make a case for Aromatherapy as a cure for cancer - such would be irresponsible and rash. I am not a Doctor and certainly no specialist in the subject of Cancer. Some alternative remedies, however, may help you feel better and so help you to recover a little bit faster from the side effects of conventional drugs and treatment. These remedies and therapies include the main alternative health niches such as Acupuncture, Herbalist disciplines and others such as, indeed, Aromatherapy as well as other complimentary therapies. All of these must be looked at as complimentary to any mainstream treatment and only be undertaken after consultation with your chosen healthcare professional.

Herbal remedies have issues. For example, soy and some herbs can act like estrogens in the body (they are often referred to as phyto-estrogens), they can conceivably increase the risk of cancer recurrence by promoting breast cancer cell growth. This is especially true of women with estrogen-dependent breast cancer.

What are the herbs to watch out for? For women who have had breast cancer, the following herbs have been found to have estrogen (*2 - below) - like effects and should be avoided: Red clover (trifolium pratense) Chasteberry (vitex agnus castus), Hops (humulus lupulus), Ginseng, Soy, Dong Quai (angelica sinensis) and Licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra) also have estrogen-like effects.

Women taking the drug “Tamoxifen” (*1 - below) are even more likely to use herbs and soy because of hot flashes. However, Tamoxifen has an anti-estrogenic effect (it's used for estrogen-dependent breast cancers), so people taking Tamoxifen should take special care with the above estrogenic herbs.

Accupunture and any other, even mildly invasive techniques may have attendant side problems - the use of a dirty needle, for example. So if you are going to look at alternative healthcare, as well as only doing so in consultation with your Doctor, make sure that you are visiting a truly professional therapist.

Either as part of a Cancer care programme or indeed as a means of trying to avoid getting Cancer (or aggravating Cancer) in the first place, let us begin with some aspects which may appear obvious, but nonetheless need to be mentioned. These relate to our lifestyle:

1. Avoid alcohol, drugs, tobacco, red meat and caffeine. Avoid chemicals such as aluminium found in antiperspirants. - Handle pesticides with care. Be more aware of the chemicals in your environment. Eat organic and non-irradiated food.

2. Nutrition - Use and drink purified/filtered water. Eat fresh, raw foods. Avoid sugar, fats and processed foods. Be aware of essential fatty acids and the protective role of phyto- or plant estrogens in breast cancer.

3. Consider nutritional supplements, especially those that boost the immune system. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, B complex, Beta carotene, biofiavonoids, co-enzyme Q, enzymes to aid with digestion. That said, supplements must only be taken in consultation with your physician. Some people with cancer take large amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other dietary supplements in an effort to enhance their immune systems or even destroy cancer cells. Some of these substances can be harmful. In fact, large doses of some vitamins and minerals may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Large doses os some can be extremely harmful in any event - Selenium, for example. Many people believe that if a pill or supplement can be found on store shelves, then it is safe and effective. At this time, there are no regulations controlling the safety, content, and quality or dose recommendations for these products.

4. Herbal Remedies - Consider traditional Chinese medicine. Herbal preparations for internal and external use have a variety of herbs which stimulate the immune system and have suggested anti-cancer activity as well. For example, Cat's Claw (Antioxidant and anti-tumor properties); Essiac herbal tea that strengthens the immune system contains Burdock, Indian rhubarb, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm. Green Tea: Contains bio-flavonoids that may be able to help protect against cancer - but see above!

5. Detoxification Programs. There are a variety of detoxification programs available and suggested. I have articles elsewhere on my site which cover the subject of detoxification in some depth

6. Alternatives to Chemotherapy. None. I have read an awful lot of absolute rubbish about this subject. As I said right at the begining, alternative medicine cannot cure Cancer. Complementary therapy can, I believe, help lessen the chances of getting Cancer (as many of the suggestions are pure common sense) and Aromatherapy and many of the other disciplines can have a positive affect on recovery/ can help the individual to live with the disease. Further, continued careful control of diet and envoirnment may help place the disease into remission and provide the sufferer with more time. I know this from personal experience and having lost several members of my family to Cancer. One of my Aunts was most fastidious in her diet and discipline, she attended the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital and their work and her application of dietary and other rules to the letter, gave her much more time than originally suggested.

7. Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, London. I quote here directly from their website:

"This clinic offers a programme of therapies to complement conventional cancer treatments - chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. The programme is presented in an integrated manner, enabling patients to receive other forms of care appropriate to their individual needs. The hospital does not offer a cure for cancer, or a replacement for treatment already being received from other specialists in conventional cancer care."

Their Programme is designed to:

1. Help with the needs of the individual by offering a patient-centred approach and care in the form of homeopathy and other complementary therapies.
2. Enhance symptom control and quality of life, including adverse effects of conventional treatment.
3. Encourage self help and empowerment for patients.

heir programmes include:

This is based on the principal of 'like treating like'. An individual profile of the person and the precise nature of symptoms provide clues as to which remedy is to be prescribed.

Homeopathy has been found to be useful in emotional support, reduction of anxiety and depression and also in the treatment of the side effects from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. It has also proved useful for general well-being and relief of specific symptoms such as hot flushes and pain.

Acupuncture Treatment involves the use of fine needles piercing the skin. It works mainly through the central nervous system. Acupuncture is mainly used in the treatment of painful conditions, but may also be useful for general wellbeing, energy levels, sleep patterns and complaints such as hot flushes and breathlessness.

Therapeutic massage and aromatherapy The use of massage with or without essential oils can be valuable in the treatment of stress, anxiety and the side or after effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

This is a preparation of mistletoe, which enhances immune system responses. Iscador is prescribed either as an oral preparation, or via subcutaneous injections which are self-administered.
This has its origins in traditional Chinese medicine and follows the same principles of energy and meridians as acupressure. Using a combination of pressure and massage techniques the aim is to stimulate and enhance the immune system.
Relaxation and Visualisation:
Use of these techniques are essential aspects of managing stress. Tapes are available for patients to use at home.
This works on the principle of improving health by rebalancing the energy flow within the body. The main areas of treatment are the feet and hands, and the technique uses gentle pressure applied to specific areas with the thumbs.
It is a form of healing which involves channelling energy through the hand to promote balance and harmony in the body

With all alternative medicine has taught us about breast cancer, try to begin a nutritional program which includes nutritional supplementation and appropriate detoxification as well as a regular exercise and stress reduction program. I know the above sounds obvious, but it needs to be said. There is so much rubbish around in the environment we live in today, it helps to try and make our bodies' life as simple as possible.

Some research has shown that Aromatherapy can help with, essentially, a palliative effect.

The researchers assessed the effects of massage and aromatherapy on 103 cancer patients in a palliative care setting. The patients were randomly allocated to receive massage using a carrier oil (massage) or massage using a carrier oil plus the Roman chamomile essential oil (aromatherapy massage). The results revealed that there was a statistically significant reduction in anxiety after each massage and the patients who received aromatherapy massage also noted improvements in their disposition, physical comfort and their quality of life.”

“The report concludes that massage with or without essential oils appears to reduce levels of anxiety, but the benefits are clearly enhanced by the addition of Roman chamomile essential oil as this seems to help improve physical and psychological symptoms, as well as the patients' overall quality of life.”

Source: Palliat Med 1999 Sep;13(5):409-17. An evaluation of aromatherapy massage in palliative care. Wilkinson S, Aldridge J, Salmon I, Cain E, Wilson B

Yet in other instances, no significant benefit was observed:

“Researchers at the St. George Hospital Cancer Care Centre in Australia investigated whether inhalation of aromatherapy during radiotherapy reduced anxiety in 313 cancer patients undergoing radiation treatment."

Patients were randomly divided into three groups. The first group received only a carrier oil with no fragrance, while the second group received low quality, fractionated essential oils. The third group was given high quality pure essential oils of lavender, bergamot, and cedarwood. The essential oils were administered by two nurses who were certified aromatherapists. During radiation treatment, patients wore a plastic-backed paper bib, much like those used by dentists. Three drops of the relevant aromatherapy treatment was applied to the bib at the start of the radiotherapy session, exposing the patient to the aromatherapy for approximately 15-20 minutes. To assess anxiety levels, patients completed two written tests at the start, and after completion, of the study. These tests, commonly used to measure anxiety, were the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and the Somatic and Psychological Health Report (SPHERE). At the end of the study patients also identified which aromatherapy treatment they believed they had received, whether they liked the aroma, and whether they believed it had been beneficial.

At treatment end, researchers reported no significant difference in HADS depression or SPHERE scores between each treatment group. While the strongest factor linked to patient anxiety during treatment was a high baseline anxiety test score, the researchers reported that patients receiving only the carrier oil reported significantly lower HADS anxiety scores than patients that received low- or high-quality essential oils. Researchers suggested that this negative link between fragrance and anxiety may be the result of a negative Pavlovion effect, in which patients come to associate specific aromas with anxiety experienced during radiation treatment. Additional research is needed to confirm these findings and understand their implications.

Reference: Graham PH, Browne L, Cox H, et al. Inhalation aromatherapy during radiotherapy: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind randomized trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2003;21:2372-2376.

Indeed, it seems to me that for as many articles suggesting that Aromatherapy can help, there are just as many that say its use makes no difference. It should be mentioned that we are talking here about using Aromatherapy to help with the after effects of medical treatment, not using essential oils as a part of any mainstream treatment. (For which there is certainly no research - albeit one way or the other) The most interesting point in the latter extract is the reference to any Pavlovian response, in other words, rather than viewing the essential oil as helping stress, the fragrance of the essential oil reminds the patient of his or her condition and so increases it. It seems to me that the jury is still out on the benefits of Aromatherapy as it is on any complementary therapy.

Although there is no scientific proof, here are some of the benefits suggested for essential oils (all uses are external, that is, added to baths, steam, or used in massage)

• Lemon to detoxify and stimulate the immune system and the liver.
• French Basil aids digestion, treats is also used for menstrual cramps and to strengthen the immune system.
• Cassie (acacia farnesiana) to relieve muscular tension, lift depression, and help rheumatism.
• Geranium to stimulate the production of urine, balance abnormal secretions of sex hormones, improve circulation, and is good for sore throats.
• Rose fragrance improves appetite, aids digestion, and tones the stomach, liver and spleen.
• Eucalyptus to help eliminate infection.
• Lavender to calm, sedate, relax, and lower blood pressure.

Let us say that the main benefit of the use of any alternative therapy (including aromatherapy) is likely to be more palliative than anything else, as this conclusion suggests:

"Frequency of specific use according to type of CAM was higher and more specific than reported in other studies. Patients who had undergone chemotherapy were most likely to use CAM. IMPLICATIONS FOR NURSING: Oncology nurses are in a key position to identify which symptoms or side effects patients are experiencing and which CAM therapies may be helpful to relieve patients' symptoms related to treatment and psychological distress related to their cancer."

(College of Nursing at the University of South Florida, Tampa, USA.)

My opinion is that there is certainly no research that shows that any of the non-intrusive complimentary therapies are in any way damaging. If you find them helpful, therefore, then make use of them.

This may be summarised in the following extract taken from:
National Cancer Institue's (USA) PDQ cancer information summary,
Aromatherapy, dated 23/10/2006 and available at

“A study whose primary objective was evaluating an aromatherapy service following changes made after an initial pilot at a UK cancer centre also reported on the experiences of patients referred to the service. Of 89 patients originally referred, 58 completed 6 aromatherapy sessions. The authors reported significant improvements in anxiety and depression (as measured by HADS) at the completion of the 6 sessions, as compared with before the 6 sessions. A small study examined the physical and psychological effects of aromatherapy massage in 8 patients with primary malignant brain tumors attending their first follow-up appointment after radiation therapy. The author reported no psychological benefit in these patients from aromatherapy massage (as measured by HADS) but reported a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure , pulse, and respiratory rate.

For the record, here are some of the oils people with certain conditions should avoid:

Diabetes - angelica oil
Uncontrolled high blood pressure - Hyssop, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme
Pregnancy or lactation - Star anise, Basil, Juniper, Peppermint, Rose and Rosemary
Uncontrolled epilepsy or high risk for seizures - Hyssop, Rosemary, Sweet fennel and Sage

For extra information on the subject of cancer, I recommend you visit the National Cancer Institute (US National Institutes of Health) at . I am indebted to them for their many helpful articles and the mine of useful information on their site.

*1. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) is a medication in pill form that interferes with the activity of estrogen (a hormone). Tamoxifen has been used for more than 20 years to treat patients with advanced breast cancer . It is used as adjuvant, or additional, therapy following primary treatment for early stage breast cancer. In women at high risk of developing breast cancer, tamoxifen reduces the chance of developing the disease. Tamoxifen continues to be studied for the prevention of breast cancer. It is also being studied in the treatment of several other types of cancer. It is important to note that tamoxifen is also used to treat men with breast cancer.

*2. Estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells . Tamoxifen works against the effects of estrogen on these cells. It is often called an “anti-estrogen.” As a treatment for breast cancer, the drug slows or stops the growth of cancer cells that are present in the body.