Standard treatment for melanoma (and in general) is based on science. Research and studies provide evidence and insight as to how effective certain courses of treatment will be. Alternative approaches to conventional treatment are known as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM therapies are directed at alleviating stress and pain, rather than aimed at curing the disease.
Due to growing interest in CAM, the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) was established in 1998 to oversee CAM research within the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
First, it’s important to understand the basic definitions of these methods.
- Complementary medicine: used in combination with standard treatment
- Alternative medicine: used instead of standard treatment
Some patients may look toward alternatives for a cure; however, CAM therapies do not come with a guarantee of being safe and effective, and are susceptible to scams. Promises of full cancer recovery should be regarded with suspicion. It is always wise to examine the pros and cons of any type of alternative therapy, since certain treatments may have harmful effects when combined with standard treatment.
The National Cancer Institute identifies a connection between diet and disease, stating that, “serious diseases that are linked to what we eat kill an estimated three out of four Americans each year.” This alarming number is made more alarming by the fact that many diseases are preventable through smart lifestyle choices.
While studies continue, eating certain foods may help fight skin cancer. Antioxidants appear to be a powerhouse aimed at warding off the disease. Studies have also examined the role of fats and proteins to prevent cancer, as well as plant-based spices including curcumin (found in turmeric) and different flavanoids (naturally-occurring compounds in plant-based foods) found in apples, broccoli, tomatoes, and grapes, among others.
Nutrition for Cancer Patients
Good nutrition is equally as vital for cancer patients. Nutrition therapy is a technique of providing vital nutrients to help patients maintain a healthy body weight and fight infection. The important distinction is that what’s considered healthy according to regular dietary guidelines can be very different for cancer patients. NCI points out that “some tumors make chemicals that change the way the body uses certain nutrients.” Nutrition therapy aims to control side effects due to medications or disease, while maintaining the patient’s strength.
Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers recipe cards from qualified nutritionists, to be used as an online tool or to print for patient records. These cards provide healthy recipes that incorporate fish, vegetables, and other nutritious options designed to create individual meal plans.
Naturopathic medicine incorporates natural therapies from various healing traditions, from the use of herbal supplements to forms of body manipulation, such as massage and acupuncture.
What designates a naturopathic medicine?
As stated by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), methods must meet the six principles of naturopathic healing, which include:
- Healing Power of Nature
- Identify and Treat the Cause
- First Do No Harm
- Doctor as Teacher
- Treat the Whole Person
Herbal medicines are plant-based medicines which can be taken in the form of teas or capsules. Green tea has long been hailed for its health benefits, sipped for various healing properties, from cancer to arthritis. Packed with powerful antioxidants, green tea may prevent skin tumors from forming.
Acupuncture and acupressure are directed at lessening pain in cancer patients rather than serving as a treatment method. Acupuncture involves the technique of inserting needles at key point of the body, while acupressure is the method of using the hands at the body’s specific pressure points.
The University of Maryland Medical Center cites a “generally excellent” prognosis of basal cell carcinoma from the application of acupuncture; “excellent” for squamous cell carcinoma. For malignant melanoma, the prognosis varies. If the melanoma is detected early, there is a 100 percent five-year survival rate. But melanomas that have spread tend to have a lower prognosis.
Hydrotherapy involves the use of warm or cool water to alleviate pain. The water may include forms like steam baths or ice packs. To help patients cope with pain, applications of warm water relax the muscles while ice water can lessen inflammation, constricting blood vessels.
The American Cancer Society warns that “hydrotherapy has not been proven to work in slowing the growth or spread of cancer.” Soothing saunas and applications of water to the body may offer benefits in the form of relaxed state of mind and decreased pain from sore joints.
Aimed at reducing symptoms and improving overall health, homeopathic medicine is based on the principle of treating symptoms with substances that produce similar symptoms.
Melanoma patients may benefit from manipulation of the body to help manage chronic pain. In cases of melanoma in which the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, for example, patients can benefit from the strength training and stretching of physical therapy.
Exercise is highly recommended for melanoma patients to maintain a healthy body weight and keep energy levels high. Walking, or participating in low-impact activities such as yoga, for about half an hour, three to four days a week, will improve cardiovascular health.
Additionally, the benefits of yoga’s poses and emphasis on breathing can help reduce stress. Meditation is another mind-body method that may relieve stress surrounding melanoma treatment.
Meditation refers to a cluster of techniques, most dating back to Eastern spiritual roots. Contemporary society tends to use meditation for health-related purposes, focusing on de-stressing and improving health. In CAM terminology, meditation is used to examine the relationship between emotional, mental, and behavioral factors and one’s health.
While there are various forms of mediation, many of them share common characteristics, including limiting distractions, maintaining an open, non-judgmental attitude, and finding a comfortable posture to establish focus.