One of my many areas of special interest is in cancer support and I really believe that integrative medicine has a lot to offer for people undergoing cancer treatment.
I commonly see patients with cancer in my clinic, at all stages of their journey – from the early stages of diagnosis through to palliative care and supporting quality of life in the later, more terminal cases. I find there is so much that can be helpful it is certainly worth considering when choosing the approach you want to take.
Dietary changes can be a very useful start, in particular cutting out sugars and increasing vegetables, especially the brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage and kale, as these contain powerful anti-cancer sulphur compounds. Green smoothies are an excellent addition; swapping to organic food as much as possible and reducing dairy in the hormone dependent cancers, like some types of breast and ovarian cancer. Although making dietary changes may not be enough on their own, I find they can help patients to feel much better through treatment, have less side effects and recover more quickly from surgery or chemotherapy.
Many herbs and supplements can be used to boost the body’s immune function, ease side effects to treatment, promote wound healing and repair damage done. Wonderful herbs such as turmeric, astragalus and siberian ginseng can be used safely in the majority of cases. Other strategies include reducing inflammation, protecting the liver, boosting energy and easing digestive symptoms.
Calendula and aloe vera are wonderful for topical burns caused by radiotherapy; and slippery elm and marshmallow for gut irritation or inflammation and symptoms such as diarrhoea or stomach/ abdominal pain. Probiotics are essential after a course of chemotherapy and will begin to increase levels of good bacteria in the gut after the damage caused by such a strong treatment.
Integrative medicine also has a lot to offer in supporting the emotional rollercoaster that a cancer diagnosis can bring, herbs and homeopathy can be very effective at reducing anxiety, helping with sleep and lifting mood and we can think about herbs such as passionflower, rose, lemon balm, hawthorn and verbena which I find very helpful in these situations.
Iscador, or mistletoe therapy, is an additional tool, popular in Europe and used alongside mainstream cancer treatments in many European countries, there is some good evidence showing it can be effective in improving quality of life and reducing side effects of cancer treatments; as well as some small studies showing it to improve life expectancy and reduce metastatic spread.
One of my recent positive stories has been a patient in his early 50s who had bowel cancer which had spread to his liver; he has been receiving chemotherapy alongside an integrative approach of diet, herbal medicines, supplements and Iscador and very happily his cancer has now completely gone. Wonderful news for him and his family, and as with any integrated approach, impossible to say which part of his treatment was the most important; but I feel that it may well be a combined approach which gave his body the best chance.
Sadly, not everyone has such good news, and I may also be asked to help patients with improving quality of life in terminal cases, in this instance there is much to be done with improving energy, sleep and mood, reducing pain or nausea and giving dignity and choices. Having a good death is important and feeling there is dignity and no suffering can be comforting for the patient and their family and help ease the sadness and make this very difficult time a little easier to cope with.
Integrative medicine can give the patient choice and control, and helps them to feel empowered, something I believe is so important….. and on that note here are some useful resources which may be of interest to you or someone you know ….
Yes to Life – http://yestolife.org.uk
Penny Brohn Centre – https://www.pennybrohn.org.uk
Mistletoe Therapy UK – https://www.mistletoetherapy.org.uk