Breast cancer affects about one in eight women in the USA at some point in their lives. Each year, there are more than 260,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed and almost 64,000 cases of in situ breast cancer. Men are at risk for breast cancer too, with almost 2,600 cases per year.
Early detection and prompt medical intervention by a qualified medical doctor are essential to favorable outcomes, but some patients also opt to include alternative methods. In this article, we’ll consider the range of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practices of most interest to breast cancer patients.
Ayurveda is ancient, originating about 3,000 years ago. It deals with the balance between mind, body, and spirit. Though called Ayurvedic “medicine,” it focuses mainly on maintaining good health rather than healing sickness.
Ayurvedic practices include yoga, food (indian herbs and spices), massage, and meditation.
Chinese medicine is the second oldest medicinal practice, from 2,500 years ago. Similar to Ayurvedic medicine, it deals with the balance between mind and body. Using Chinese herbal medicines, tai chi, qigong, massage, and such, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is still being used to treat illnesses and maintain health.
Tai chi and qi gong are mind and body practices involving postures, focus, breathing, and relaxation. They are similar to yoga. Tui na, literally meaning “push and grasp” is a Chinese body movement therapy using principles of Taoism to bring the body back into balance. It uses massage to open the body’s chi and to move this energy throughout the whole body.
Acupuncture is a well-known form of alternative medicine. Acupuncturists insert fine needles at strategic locations in the body. In the East, acupuncture is widely used, though it is often considered pseudoscience in the West. It is most commonly used for pain relief.
Biofeedback is a non-drug treatment used to treat the side effects of chemotherapy. It teaches patients to control processes that are generally involuntary, like muscle tension, blood pressure, or heart rate. During sessions, electrical sensors are connected to the body to monitor changes.
Biofeedback is non-invasive and has little to no side effects.
Changes in Diet
Diet changes don’t need to be drastic. They mostly include the addition of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), increasing amounts of green tea, avoiding sugar, and the supplementation with antioxidants. Cruciferous foods provide compounds like sulforaphane and epigallocatechin-3 that may help fight cancer.
Antioxidants lower the risk of cancer by protecting the body from free radicals. Free radicals cause damage by interacting with either the cell membrane or DNA, causing the cells to die or mutate. You can increase your antioxidant uptake by eating the right foods and by taking supplements.
The principle behind recreational therapy is simple: reduce overall stress to increase overall health. Recreational therapy includes art therapy, music therapy, and aromatherapy.
Both art and music therapy provide a creative outlet to relieve pressure. Aromatherapy provides a soothing atmosphere to facilitate stress relief. All have been proven to provide concrete physiological benefits: a slower heart rate, muscle relaxation, and the release of endorphins (which act as natural painkillers).
Support Groups for Breast Cancer
Breast cancer support groups meet regularly to share stories and concerns. Participants find a safe and supportive environment to bring up concerns and share knowledge.
Always speak with your doctor first before trying any CAM treatment. CAM methods aren’t meant to substitute for traditional treatments, but they can be helpful.