Most of the women whom I know at least consider the use of complementary therapies as they move through breast cancer. There is, of course, wide variation as to what they choose to do. I have seen women who make this practically a full-time job with restrictive and time-consuming diets (e.g. macrobiotic), multiple appointments with different practitioners, and several hours of daily meditation. I have known many other women who are more selective and opt for acupuncture to ease their reactions to chemotherapy, Reiki for a general sense of well-being, or just try to eat more fruits and vegetables. Some lists of complementary therapies include support groups, so that would include many women who are not otherwise interested in CAM (complementary/alternative medicines) The one important caveat is to let your doctor know about anything you are doing that includes ingesting something (special diets, vitamins, herbs, etc.). Although most western doctors don't know a lot about these options, they will know if there is concern about a negative interaction between what you are swallowing and the chemotherapy you are taking.
Here is an interesting summary from MedWire (and the reported numbers are much lower than I would have predicted) :
Complementary medicine use documented in women with breast cancer
By Laura Dean
MedWire News: The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) by women with breast cancer increases with time from diagnosis and is associated with more severe menopausal symptoms, Australian researchers report.
In their study of 1588 women with invasive breast cancer, Susan Davis (Alfred Hospital, Prahran, Victoria) and colleagues documented patterns of consultation with alternative practitioners, use of CAM commonly used to alleviate menopausal symptoms, and lifestyle changes made in the first 2 years after diagnosis.
Each woman completed an enrollment questionnaire, on average, 41 weeks after diagnosis, and a follow-up questionnaire 92 weeks after diagnosis.
The researchers report that, at the time of follow-up, 16.4% of women had consulted a CAM practitioner. The most frequently consulted CAM practitioner was a naturopath (9.0%), followed by an acupuncturist (3.5%), and a Chinese medicine practitioner (3.3%).
At the time of diagnosis, 6.4% of the women reported using at least one CAM to alleviate menopausal symptoms, this increased to 6.9% at enrollment, and 10.6% at follow-up. Black cohosh (Note from Hester: Black cohosh has natural estrogen, and it is generally suggested that women who have had breast cancer should avoid its use.) was the most commonly used CAM in this study.
Women who consulted a CAM practitioner and women who were using at least one CAM at follow-up were, on average, younger and more educated and had significantly more menopausal symptoms, as evidenced by a higher Menopause Quality of Life Questionnaire score, than women who did not use CAMs.
Overall, 41.1% of study participants reported making a lifestyle change, with the most common change being increased physical exercise (29.0%). In addition, 33.6% of the participants reported making a dietary change, most frequently the consumption of more fruit and vegetables (13.8%) and less meat (6.9%).
"The use of CAMs by women in this study was lower than what we anticipated and was substantially lower than previously reported for women in general and for women with breast cancer," remark Davis and co-authors in the journal Menopause. This may be because the study was limited to CAMs likely to be used for the management of menopausal symptoms rather therapies in general use such as vitamins, fish oil, glucosamine and evening primrose oil, say the researchers.
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