When are alternative treatments better than Western medicine?

A recent survey by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found more than 70 percent of adult cancer patients in Washington used alternative therapies and almost all report substantial improvements in well-being as a result of it. While some patients used alternative medicines to treat their cancer, most therapies were used to enhance overall health and well-being.

Many patients also turn to alternative modalities when they have exhausted options in conventional medicine, or if standard treatment is basically unavailable, such as an inoperable tumor, or if conventional options may only be minimally effective at best with a very high degree of adverse events.

“The best clinical outcomes occur when conventional western treatments and complementary and alternative medicine (cam) therapies are combined,” says Dan Labriola, ND, a Seattle based naturopath and nationally known cancer therapy expert. “Conventional interventions tend to be more effective in critical care situations whereas cam treatments can outperform Western medicine with some chronic disease and diagnoses, especially where it is important to utilize the least invasive treatment.”

Dr. Gaynor cautions about terming treatments as better or worse than one another. “I think it makes it makes a lot of sense to use them in conjunction with western medicine because every modality of treating a difficult disease like cancer is limited but can have an effect.”

As an example, he points to chemotherapy, which works predominantly by damaging cancer cells. “It’s not capable, for the most part, of killing every last cancer cell,” he says. “And we know that the immune system is very important in fighting cancer and we know that that it is better able to recognize a damaged cell than one that hasn’t been damaged by chemotherapy.”

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