Alternative or complementary medicine, often referred to as integrative medicine, includes a broad range of healing philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatments and alternative when it is used instead of them.
Use of alternative or complementary medicine has grown tremendously in the United States over the past decade. Some studies report that the percentage of Americans using alternative therapies rose from 34 percent in 1990 to 69 percent in 1998. Alternative therapies have become increasingly popular among patients with chronic illnesses, including cancer. Early pioneers, such as renowned oncologist O. Carl Simonton, introduced the idea that one’s state of mind could influence the ability to survive cancer.
In addition to the mind/body connection, alternative medicine encompasses a wide variety of modalities, including diet, vitamin supplements, herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicine, ayurveda, homeopathy, massage therapy, chiropractic, etc.
There have been a number of alternative therapies developed specifically for cancer treatment. One such treatment involves using antineoplastins, a naturally occurring group of amino acids, and is a relatively non-toxic therapy developed by Stanislaw R. Burzynski, MD, Ph.D. He administers this therapy at his Texas clinic.
According to Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., director of Integrative Medicine at the Strang-Cornell Cancer Prevention Center in New York City, the most common therapies used by cancer patients are usually a combination of both nutritional and mind/body treatments. “That can involve anything from vitamins and herbs to meditation, yoga, or body work such as acupuncture,” says Dr. Gaynor.
“In my experience,” he adds, “Which may be due to the nature of our center, most patients are doing both — conventional and complementary. We call it integrative therapy.”