Alternative and complementary therapies
Almost all of the women we spoke to had made changes of some sort in their daily routines in terms of things like exercise, yoga, eating healthy foods or, taking vitamin supplements or other activities, such as massage therapy – they told us they felt motivated to be physically and mentally strong and that it might help them with treatments or recovery. This was usually as a support or complement to the medical treatments in their plan of care. There is some emerging evidence for the effects of certain complementary treatments such the use of exercise in healing and recovery, and the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain. Some had tried less common approaches. Women varied in the extent to which they had discussions with their healthcare team about alternative and complementary approaches, and they had different experiences regarding the level of support from doctors, nurses or therapists for these approaches.
An alternative therapy is generally defined as some form of treatment or therapy that is used instead of conventional medical care. All conventional cancer treatments have to have gone through rigorous testing by law in order to prove that they work. Most alternative therapies have not been through such evaluation and thus there is typically limited or no available scientific evidence about whether or not they work. It is highly recommended that women speak to their healthcare teams about alternative treatments to consider the potential benefits and harms from therapies that are considered more experimental or unproven.
Some of the women we spoke to considered rejecting the recommended medical treatment entirely to follow a more alternative pathway. However, all the women we spoke to told us that they eventually chose to follow all or most medical treatments with other treatments as a complement.
Melissa's naturopath advised her to follow the medical treatment and naturopathy as a complement to the treatment.
I did a phone consultation with a naturopath who had been recommended to me and I had 15 minutes with her by phone and I just kind of needed a different… I just wanted a different perspective. And so, what she had said was she had had really good results […]
It should be noted though that some alternative treatments may have adverse effects with the medication you are taking for breast cancer treatment. It is therefore strongly advised to see a pharmacist or health care professional before taking any alternative treatments or medications. For example, some studies have shown that certain forms of vitamin C therapy may make chemotherapy less effective.
Donna initially wanted to use only natural and alternative treatments; her family convinced her to include the medical treatments.
So when I met with the medical oncologist he outlined the treatment plan for me, talked to me about a chemotherapy plan and how long it would take and I told him I would think about it and then left it at that. I’m quite into natural medicine and alternative […]
In addition to the medical treatments, women often used other complementary therapies – which are those used alongside conventional medical treatments. These complementary therapies usually helped women feel better and cope better with the cancer and treatments. Because of the risk of side effects or unexpected reactions, it is usually highly recommended to discuss any complementary therapy with the doctor before using it.
The women we spoke to described using services such as physiotherapy, lymphatic massages, acupuncture, naturopathy (such as Vitamin C treatments, energy work, and green tea extracts), and pain relief or taste improvement with the use of marijuana medication. Women also engaged in activities and services to improve their mental health and well-being, such as psychosocial support through counselling, certain exercise classes that helped with relaxation such as Pilates, fitness, yoga, Tai Chi, and meditation. But they also described using services that provided wigs, makeup sessions, and other approaches to improve their appearance and self-confidence. Donna made use of aboriginal healing techniques and created her own moisturizers out of natural ingredients during radiation therapy. Many women described the advantages of having regular massages or physiotherapy.
The tingling in her hands was treated with deep tissue massage and that brought relief for Joanne.
I tried, well the tingling like… I couldn’t be anywhere and I was going like this… my hands were all like….. I tried everything to try and get rid of that. I went to a chiropractor, I went to physio. Well I went to physio first for my arm anyway, for my lymph nodes that were removed, so I went to physiotherapy but only in the beginning, post-surgery, to get the movement back. I tried massage back then and then I stopped for a while. I went to a chiropractor to see if he could help with the nerve damage stuff but no. He told me it’s not going to help, you should try massage again. Try deep tissue massage and that really does help. Other than that no I didn’t go to anything else.
Following exercise classes with the cancer centre helped Patricia stay in shape and at the same time it provided an informal support group.
One of the great things, when the Cancer Centre here really was moved all into the one campus and opened in a new building, was that, there’s a researcher who also specializes in breast cancer and she really felt that exercise that cancer patients should be able to exercise and […]
To improve her taste sensation, Gaye would like to use marijuana and is trying to find a doctor willing to prescribe it.
And I feel very badly for women who are really upset about it because I do know women who have survived years after breast cancer and it can happen for all of us. The only thing I can say about having my TRAM flap*(Transverse Rectus Abdominis Muscle Flap) is that I […]
Some women spoke about Cancer Wellness centers in their region or programs such as Look Good, Feel Good or Breast Health for example, as well as pick-up services to help people get to their treatment center.
Women offered many different reasons to explain why they were following complementary treatments: to relieve certain symptoms such as tension in the muscles, for pain relief, to feel better, to increase mobility and because they wanted to treat the whole body not only the cancer. Donna, Kathryn and May-Lie also felt that they received explanations for their symptoms in these sessions that they had not received from the biomedical professions. For example Donna said “So I was experiencing a lot of pain in my collarbone here and phoned (the treatment center) about it and was told that radiation doesn’t cause bone pain and that I must have arthritis. And when I met with the osteopath last week they explained that it (radiation) doesn’t cause bone pain but it causes inflammation in the fascia which pulls on the bones which hurts. So I don’t know why I didn’t get that information from the oncology department it would have been helpful.” Kathryn found a lot of support from her Vietnamese healer and feels that she is the reason she is still here. Other women described why they were not using certain services, for example Debbra could not find proof of the benefit from acupuncture, Jocelyn found other services or activities too expensive, and most of these sorts of services were too far away for Iceni.
Shelley describes different complementary treatments and how they have helped her.
The other treatment that has been very successful with me has been acupuncture, to help manage hot flashes. Being jolted into menopause at 46. I’m still suffering the side effects of hot flashes that could go on throughout the 5 years of hormone treatment, but it does help. I find […]
Counselling for Debbra is a safe place to speak about some of her worries. She also hopes it will be a 'security blanket' for her son.
It’s going to affect you long-term as well this is something you’re going to have to live with and, and you have to process and I mean if you’re somebody who’s never considered going to a counselor it’s not such a bad idea. If you don’t have anybody that you […]
Complementary services and the health care team
Women had different approaches to sharing information about using complementary treatments with the medical professionals. Kathryn said she did not say anything to her medical doctors as she thought they would tell her to stop. She is also seeing a medical doctor privately in the USA and appreciates his time and knowledge, but she does share his advice with the professionals in Canada. Donna felt the medical professionals were not open to complementary treatments but found a nurse who helped her to sort out how to combine both kinds of treatments.
Donna's health care team said 'no' to all complementary treatments
Yes since then, and so I really sort of appreciated the time she spent with me. One of the other things I found was, I had told the doctors that I was doing some of these other therapies and they were very adamant that if I was going to do […]
Others felt it was possible to have an open discussion about the use complementary treatments with health professionals. Debbra emphasized that people should be very careful about drug interactions and to let your pharmacist know what drugs you are on.
Julie is under medical treatment at the moment and is very careful about using complementary treatments; she informs her health professional.
Recently, I began to do more research on this and also to consult by reference because I don’t want to see just anybody. I started seeing an osteopath since last fall. So the fall… I would say November 2014 and I am transparent about it with my oncologist. I believe […]
Review date: 2019-01