Cancer: A patient and practitioner perspective

Cancer is responsible for a significant amount of illness and death in Australia. In 2020, it was estimated that there was close to 150,000 new cancer cases diagnosed, and just under 50,000 deaths in Australia (Cancer Council Australia, 2022). Orthodox medical treatment such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, immunotherapy and newly discovered targeted therapies are considered the gold standard in oncology treatment, although they often come with additional risks and side effects. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on cancer research globally each year. There have been many significant breakthroughs, and conventional treatments have improved dramatically over the past few decades. However, there are still countless patients being left with poor prognosis’s or feeling disempowered with no idea what they can do to support their own health, well-being, and future. This is just one factor contributing to the growing demand for Complementary & Alternative Medicines (CAM) to be used alongside conventional therapies. Other reasons include increased feelings of well-being and vitality, reduced unwanted side effects and improved efficacy of conventional therapies (CancerCouncil Australia, 2022).

CAM is increasingly sought out and can have a vital role in supporting cancer patients both during and post treatment. The use of herbal medicine as an adjunct treatment in oncology is steadily growing in Asia, Europe and across the world (Wang et al 2020, Buckner et al 2018). Many herbal medicines and plant compounds have demonstrated the therapeutic potential to down-regulate many oncogenic pathways of metabolism, growth factors, receptors, signalling and cell division (Xie, S et al, 2022). Many herbs have been shown to enhance the effectiveness of orthodox treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapy. Some herbal medicines and plant compounds can reduce mitochondrial damage and other unwanted side effects from conventional therapy (Wang et al 2020).

Cancer A patient and practitioner perspective

Nutritional interventions are another area in which CAM practitioners can support cancer patients. There has long been an association between the Mediterranean diet anda reduced incidence of cancer as an example (Mentella et al 2019). However, there is ever growing research starting the conversation about selective dietary protocols, including methods of caloric restriction such as fasting or time restricted eating. These protocols may potentiate the efficacy of cancer therapies and/or alleviate the resistance to orthodox cancer therapies in certain cancers. (Krisic, J, Pieber, T & Prokesch, A2020, Vernieri et al 2022, Salvadori et al 2021).

Different types of cancer vary in their make-up and use of metabolic pathways. It is important to note that just because something has ‘anti-cancer’ properties in a test tube, they may be of little to no therapeutic value in humans. In addition, anti-cancer properties that may be of benefit in one type cancer may be of zero benefit in another. When undergoing orthodox cancer therapy (that is the primary medical treatment – e.g. chemotherapy) the idea of including CAM is to assist or complement the orthodox therapy. It is always best to consult with your oncologist or physician about using CAM in conjunction with orthodox treatment.CAM can be beneficial for the reduction of side effects, improving the individual’s overall health, increasing efficacy of treatment, and improving recovery. The importance of understanding herb-drug-nutrient interactions is essential to ensure the highest level of safety is upheld for the patient. It is therefore advised to seek advice from a qualified CAM practitioner, like a Naturopath, before deciding to start on any CAM treatment.

Reference List

Buckner, C. A., Lafrenie, R. M., Dénommée, J. A., Caswell, J.M., & Want, D. A. (2018). Complementary and alternative medicine use inpatients before and after a cancer diagnosis. Current Oncology25(4), 275-281.

CancerCouncil Australia (2020), www.cancer.org.au

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