Prostate cancer is the second most common type of cancer among American men, after skin cancer. There about 220,800 new cases and about 27,540 deaths from prostate cancer every year in the US alone. However, there are treatment options to address the disease, which depend on patients’ age and expected lifespan, any additional severe condition diagnosed, the cancer’s stage and grade, patients’ feelings and physicians’ opinions on the need to treat the cancer right away and potential side effects associated with each treatment, as well as probability of each type of treatment to cure the cancer.
The treatment options for patients with prostate cancer include expectant management (watchful waiting) or active surveillance, surgery, radiation therapy, cryosurgery (cryotherapy), hormone therapy, chemotherapy, vaccine treatment, and bone-directed treatment. However, some patients and physicians may prefer no so conventional courses of treatment, or in determined cases, complementary therapies may be recommended. This type of course of treatment is known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?
According to the National Cancer Institute, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a term that refers to “medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care.” Standard medical care, which is also known as biomedicine or allopathic, Western, mainstream, orthodox, or regular medicine, is practiced by health care professionals including medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, physical therapists, physician assistants, psychologists, and registered nurses. However, the use of other options is increasing among prostate cancer patients.
“Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use is common among adults, and recent reports suggest that 25%-50% of prostate cancer (PCa) patients use at least one CAM modality,” explain the authors of the study “Complementary and alternative medicines in prostate cancer: from bench to bedside?.” Complementary medicine is the term used to classify options used in combination with standard medical treatments, but are not considered standard treatments, while alternative medicine refers to therapies used instead of standard medical care. Integrative medicine is the use of standard medicine in combination with complementary and alternative medicine.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Options
There are many different options for complementary and alternative medicine to address cancer, but in the case of prostate cancer, there are three most common approaches. Acupuncture is one of these options, and it is commonly an example of complementary medicine. It is considered part of the Chinese traditional medicine and has been practiced in the United State for about 200 years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of acupuncture needles in the country as a medical device in 1996 and it can help ease some side effects of the treatment for prostate cancer.
Nutrition and dietary supplements can be an example of alternative medicine, since patients may adopt a special diet to treat cancer instead of anticancer drugs prescribed by an oncologist, or as complementary medicine when combined with standard treatment options. The NCI notes that “many studies suggest that CAM use is common among prostate cancer patients, and the use of vitamins, supplements, and specific foods is frequently reported by these patients,” and adds that these supplements include calcium, green tea, lycopene, modified citrus pectin, pomegranate, selenium, soy, vitamin D, vitamin E, among others. Meditation can also help patients ease the symptoms and emotional burden of the disease.
Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine Safe?
The safety of complementary and alternative medicine cannot be generalized, since there are different approaches and places to find them. Regardless of a patient’s preferences, it is important that they seek out the opinion of specialized professionals about which alternative medicines are safe to take. One of the common mistakes identified by the National Cancer Institute is that since it’s natural, it’s safe. However, being natural does not necessarily mean it is safe, and the botanical and nutritional products available may negatively interact with other treatments.
“Some CAM therapies have undergone careful evaluation and have found to be safe and effective. However there are others that have been found to be ineffective or possibly harmful,” emphasized the center, which explained that there is currently less research on these therapies due to time and funding issues, difficulties in finding institutions and cancer researchers to work with on the studies, and regulatory issues. “CAM therapies need to be evaluated with the same long and careful research process used to evaluate standard treatments. Standard cancer treatments have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through an intense scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients.”
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