Posted on Apr 06, 2023, 6 p.m.
The side effects of cancer treatment can be so severe that the cure starts to seem worse than the disease. In the search for relief, some cancer patients are turning to holistic therapies. But can these alternative methods really ease cancer side effects? Let’s take a look at some of the things that you need to know about using complementary therapies with the standard ones in cancer treatment.
Common Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Most people experience side effects during cancer treatment. For some, those side effects can be so debilitating that they interfere with treatment and recovery.
These are the most common side effects you’re likely to experience during cancer treatment:
Depression and Anxiety
Up to 20 percent of cancer patients develop depression, and 10 percent develop anxiety. Depression and anxiety make it harder to adhere to cancer treatment and worsen other symptoms.
Cancer patients often feel exhausted, even if they’ve slept a normal amount. This lack of energy can persist months after treatment ends and can lead to loss of muscle mass due to inactivity.
Commonly known as “chemo brain,” cancer can cause cognitive changes including learning, concentration, and memory problems.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are difficult to live with and increase the risk of dehydration and malnutrition in cancer patients. Patients may experience nausea, vomiting, or both.
Pain can be caused by the cancer itself as well as by cancer treatment. Patients who have lost an appendage to cancer may experience phantom pain.
Cancer patients may experience sleep disturbances due to stress, medication side effects, or pain. Sleeplessness worsens fatigue, pain, anxiety and depression, and other cancer side effects.
How Holistic Methods Could Help
One of these side effects alone is enough to make cancer treatment deeply unpleasant, and most people experience multiple side effects during treatment. Unfortunately, the risk of medication interactions means patients can’t reach for many of the remedies they’re accustomed to. As a result, they have to choose between prescription drugs approved for use in cancer treatment, which have side effects of their own, and behavioral strategies to make living with side effects easier.
Dissatisfied with these options, many cancer patients have turned to holistic methods for relief from symptoms. While no approach is guaranteed to be a one-size-fits-all source of relief, these methods are worth exploring.
- Cannabidiol or CBD, a non-intoxicating compound extracted from marijuana and industrial hemp, was shown to improve anxiety and sleep in 79.2 percent and 66.7 percent of patients respectively in one recent study. While CBD increased fatigue in some patients, side effects subside over time.
- CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation causing muscle and joint pain and reduce the damage of free radicals, resulting in less pain. THC, also found in marijuana, may reduce reliance on opioids in patients with pain. When used together, THC and opioids produce less impairment than either drug alone.
- Acupuncture may be as effective as conventional anti-nausea drugs, and in combination with such drugs is even more effective.
- Yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are gentle forms of exercise that have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, and promote well-being and better quality sleep. Ensuring you have a neat and organized area to relax will ensure you stay calm and focused, instead of anxious and uncomfortable.
- Therapeutic massage can have many beneficial effects for cancer patients; it has been documented to break up adhesions and scar tissue, aid relaxation and circulation, and help with fatigue, pain management, as well as lymph drainage..
While the existing research is promising, it doesn’t guarantee that all holistic therapies will be right for every patient. As with any medication or supplement, it’s important to consult with a doctor before using herbal or vitamin supplements, marijuana or CBD products. Your medical team can evaluate the appropriateness of acupuncture, massage, gentle exercise, and other modalities.
Keep Track of Paperwork
Being diagnosed with cancer can feel like your entire world has been turned upside down. Then, you likely started gathering as much information as possible about prognosis, treatment, and alternative therapies (like those listed here). Between this new information and your medical appointments, you may be feeling overwhelmed with information. Try digitizing your files and saving everything as PDFs.
PDFs are very easy to convert and organize. Plus, they are searchable so you can find exactly what you’re looking for when you need it. You may consider this helpful as you convert Word files over to PDFs. It's a simple two-step process. Just drop in the file. The converter will do everything for you. Then simply save the new file wherever you’d like.
Find Options that Work Best for You
There are a lot of unsubstantiated claims about holistic therapies, including myths that they can cure cancer. While these methods might not be miracle cures, they can make cancer treatment easier for some patients. Research the methods that sound good to you, and then talk to your doctor to see what’s possible. Another reason to discuss holistic treatments with your medical team is that some of these treatments may be readily available at the facility where you’re already being treated. So keep an open mind and explore your options.
This article was written for WHN by Scott Sanders who is the creator of Cancer Well, which provides resources and support for anyone who has been affected by any form of cancer. He is also the author of the book Put Yourself First: A Guide to Self-care and Spiritual Wellness During and After Cancer Treatment.
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
Opinion Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of WHN/A4M. Any content provided by guest authors is of their own opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
Content may be edited for style and length.
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