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Myth vs. Reality: Natural Cancer Cures

Last updated: August 11, 2021

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is, unfortunately, relatively common for Americans. The National Cancer Institute reports that approximately 40% of men and women will receive a cancer diangnosis at some point in their lives. Cancer is also among the leading causes of death worldwide, with 19.3 million new cases in 2020 alone, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

But there is good news. Traditional treatments for cancer — such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation — have never been more effective. Medicine also has made significant strides in prevention and early detection. This means cancer survival rates are higher than ever. In fact, the National Cancer Institute projects there will be 22.2 million cancer survivors in the U.S. by 2030.

Whether you’re focused on successful treatment after a cancer diagnosis or preventing cancer altogether, alleged cancer “cures” abound. It’s important to understand that some of these alternative treatments can cause harm and interfere with mainstream cancer treatments.

“There is no magic supplement that cures cancer,” says Charissa Williams, a Nurse Practitioner with ThedaCare Cancer Care.

Understanding Alternative Therapies

“Miracle” cancer cures are known as alternative therapies. They’re used as a substitute for conventional care. These therapies are scientifically unproven. They’re especially problematic in oncology because delaying traditional treatment reduces the chances of remission and cure.

This is why it’s especially important to differentiate between alternative and complementary therapies. While alternative cancer treatments can harm, complementary therapies can help when used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment. They don’t provide a cure, but they can help alleviate symptoms and contribute to wellness.

“Complementary therapies are used to help control symptoms, enhance well-being, and contribute to overall patient health,” Williams says. “They’re typically recognized as safe and proven to be effective.”

Wondering which treatments have merit, and which don’t? Here’s what you need to know.

Reality: Certain foods can prevent cancer

A poor diet and lack of exercise are major risk factors for developing cancer. At least 18% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States are related to body weight, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, and poor nutrition, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.

“The most effective strategy for cancer prevention is lifestyle modification,” Williams says. “This includes maintaining a healthy body weight, getting 150 minutes of exercise per week, and consuming a diet primarily focused on plants.”

The most effective strategy for cancer prevention is lifestyle modification.

Charissa Williams, Nurse Practitioner, ThedaCare Cancer Care

The “anti-cancer diet” isn’t a single miracle food, but rather a healthy balance. Follow these guidelines to establish a a healthly lifestyle that will keep you feeling good and help reduce your risk of several chronic illnesses:

  • Eat foods rich in whole grains and fiber. Choose whole-grain pastas, breads, and rice.
  • Eat a variety of colorful fruits, vegetables, and beans.
  • Limit your consumption of red meat and processed meats like bacon, sausage, and lunch meat. Aim to eat less than 12 ounces of these types of meat each week.
  • Limit the amount of processed foods you eat. Soda, commercial baked goods, chips, and other snacks are high in fats, starches, and sugar.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Limit or abstain from alcohol consumption.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Here are some great tips for squeezing workouts into a busy schedule.

In addition to these guidelines, avoid diets that require an overabundance of a certain nutrient. They’re ineffective at treating or preventing cancer, despite what followers may say.

One such example is the alkaline diet. People may follow the alkaline diet to try to lower their body’s acid level and keep cancer cells from growing. This is based on studies that show cancer cells can’t survive in a low-acid, or alkaline, environment, according to WebMD’s Cancer Center. In truth, the food you eat doesn’t affect the acidity of your blood. As a result, following this diet simply deprives your body of the nutrients it needs to maintain good health.

Half-truth: Supplements reduce the risk of cancer returning

“Although diet has been found to play a large role in cancer prevention, dietary supplements have not,” Williams says.

Research shows that supplements don’t protect against cancer. To get the maximum cancer-prevention benefits from food, aim to meet your nutritional needs through your diet, not with supplements.

Supplements can play a role as complementary cancer therapies, though. Some providers use them to help mitigate side effects of cancer treatment and potentially reduce the risk of recurrence in the future.

“Supplements should be chosen based on individual need and type of cancer,” Williams says. “I would recommend meeting with a qualified health professional to help guide supplement choices.”

Because some supplements can do more harm than good, it’s important to base your decision on expert clinical advice. For example, antioxidant supplements reduce the efficacy of radiation therapy and some chemotherapy drugs. Turmeric reduces the effectiveness of the drug tamoxifen for breast cancer patients. Fish oil may reduce how well platinum-based chemotherapy works.

The same goes for using supplements for prevention. Supplemental beta carotene, for example, may actually increase the risk of developing lung cancer in smokers. Talk to your provider before you add any supplements to your diet to ensure you’re helping your body rather than unknowingly hurting it.

Myth: CBD shrinks cancer tumors

Cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical extracted from cannabis plants, is sometimes touted as a miracle drug. CBD products typically don’t contain THC, the chemical in marijuana that produces a high. CBD is usually sold as an oil, but you can also find it as an extract, oil-based capsule, and infused with foods, drinks, and beauty products.

Some people claim CBD can destroy or shrink cancer tumors, as well as cure many other diseases. But the truth is that the benefits of CBD are limited, especially for cancer patients.

Scientists are studying whether CBD can relieve some of the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments. At this point, no large-scale studies have shown CBD to have benefits for cancer treatment.

The Mayo Clinic reports some risks to using CBD. It can cause dry mouth, diarrhea, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue. It can also interact with other medications, including blood thinners. At the same time, the American Society of Clinical Oncology says CBD offers some cancer patients relief from nausea, vomiting, depression, and other side effects of their treatment.

If you’re considering CBD to alleviate some of the side effects of your cancer treatment, talk to your provider first.

Truth: Meditation can help with healing

Wellness routines can make a huge difference in anyone’s life. Music therapy, meditation, stress management, and yoga all are useful complementary therapies during and after cancer treatment.

Studies show that meditation, in particular, is effective for a range of health conditions. It also can help with many of the side effects of cancer treatments, such as pain, anxiety, and depression.

Williams noted that meditation and yoga improve quality of life, especially for breast cancer patients.

“We are lucky enough to have a meditation room right here at ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center,” Williams says. “It’s available for patients, family members, and staff to use anytime they would like.”

You can meditate almost anyplace and time. It takes just four steps to start feeling the immediate benefits of calming your mind and focusing on the present:

  1. Find a quiet place with few distractions.
  2. Take a comfortable position. This may be sitting, lying down, or even walking.
  3. Focus your attention on one positive thought, such as “I choose to have a good day.” If you’re having a hard time keeping your mind on one thought, focus on your breath and breathing deeply.
  4. If external distractions or intrusive thoughts interrupt you, acknowledge them and then let them go without judging yourself.

There’s no right way to meditate or one wellness routine that’s better than others. What’s important is finding the technique that makes you feel good and keeps you focused on the present.

Evaluating which cancer treatments are right for you

If you’re researching complementary cancer treatments or alternative therapies, Williams recommends asking yourself these two questions before going any further:

  1. Is it safe?
    Consider whether the therapy will interact with your other cancer treatment or medications, any potential risks of the supplement, and its quality. Supplements, CBD, and other alternative treatments are known to have quality control issues. You’re not always guaranteed to get what the packaging promises.
  2. How likely is it to be effective?
    Do your research. A fair number of supplements have proven success in fighting off cancer cells in animals, but have not undergone human clinical trials. The same goes for many of the alternative treatments for cancer.

Before trying anything new, talk with your doctor about integrating it into your care plan. Each person’s cancer experience is different, and the primary and complementary therapies will differ from one person to the next.

“I recommend that all patients be open with their provider regarding what natural products they’re using,” Williams says. “This allows the practitioner to evaluate for interactions and watch for any possible adverse effects. If a patient is pursuing any alternative treatment methods that could inhibit the speed or effectiveness of their journey to recovery, it’s important to discuss those risks and consider eliminating that natural product.”

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, ThedaCare offers a variety of traditional treatments and complementary therapies to support people on the road to recovery.

Tags: alternative medicine natural cancer remedies therapy treatment

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