CAM Clinical Trials
I have written before about CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) and clinical trials. This short piece from ASCO's CancerNet combines the two topics with information about participating in clinical trials that are designed to test the effectiveness of CAM treatments. The fact that this is happening is a major step and recognition both that some therapies may have real value and, just as importantly, that others may not. Cancer patients, as well as people with other serious illnesses, may be especially interested in trying anything that may help. This makes us quite vulnerable to claims of success that may or may not be true. Remember the old saying" If something seems too good to be true, it probably is."
I have known many women who were interested in using various complementary therapies in addition to their standard treatment. The most popular seems to be acupuncture, although other women feel they have benefitted from Reiki, massage, certainly support groups (which are sometimes included in lists of possible CAM treatments). The scary thing for me has been those women who have rejected recommended traditional therapy in favor of only "natural" treatments: special diets, a lot of herbs, etc. Although I will always support someone's right to make her own choices, this feels very unwise and sometimes dangerous.
There is a whole section of the NCI (National Cancer Institute) that studies and evaluates CAM treatments, (http://www.cancer.gov/cam/) and this article is a short summary as well as directions to how to learn more and participate if that seems right.
CAM and Clinical Trials
This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board , August / 2012 Although complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has been used for centuries, the formal study about the safety and effectiveness of individual therapies is relatively new. Today, cancer centers and government organizations are researching the safety and effectiveness of different CAM treatments by conducting clinical trials (research studies involving people).
Clinical trials help researchers understand the effectiveness of CAM in treating cancer and/or improving a person's quality of life. During a clinical trial , a specific complementary or alternative therapy goes through a rigorous scientific process to determine whether it is beneficial, not beneficial, or potentially harmful.
Clinical trials have found that certain complementary approaches can help people living with cancer when used with conventional types of cancer treatment . In fact, some complementary therapies are especially helpful in relieving symptoms and side effects of cancer treatments. For example, acupuncture has been proven to relieve pain , a common symptom among people living with cancer. It also has been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting  caused by chemotherapy.
Clinical trials have also proven that alternative approaches have no benefit for people with cancer. For instance, a large study of people with lung cancer showed that giving shark cartilage extract with the standard cancer treatment did not increase survival . At this time, there are no valid alternatives to conventional cancer therapies.
The safety of CAM is especially important for people with cancer because both complementary and alternative therapies can interact with existing cancer treatments. For example, the herb known as St. John's wort interferes with various chemotherapies, making these drugs more toxic or less effective.