Integrative Medicine for Chemotherapy Side Effects

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Understandably, you may be nervous about the potential side effects of your chemotherapy treatment. You realize that the anticancer drugs your doctor is recommending will help treat your cancer, but you want to be proactive in managing the side effects.

Integrative medicine, as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), "Combines mainstream medical therapies and complementary or alternative therapies for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness." Examples of integrative approaches (also called complementary therapies or complementary and alternative medicine) that can help you manage chemotherapy side effects, along with conventional cancer treatments, include herbal medicine, massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and mind-body and relaxation techniques, among others.

In addition to helping you manage chemotherapy side effects, integrative therapies can help you cope with the rigors of treatment by reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. Most importantly, using integrative medicine for chemotherapy side effects empowers you to be an active participant in your own cancer care and treatment.

Integrative medicine for chemotherapy is most effective when used in conjunction with allopathic treatments as part of a complete holistic treatment plan that focuses on the whole person to promote health and healing. These complementary therapies should not be used as a substitution for conventional therapies recommended by an allopathic physician.

Herbal Medicine for Chemotherapy Side Effects
In addition to proper nutrition and taking anti-nausea medications as prescribed, some herbal remedies can help relieve certain chemotherapy side effects and protect your body from the toxic effects of anticancer drugs. It's important to let your doctor know what herbal remedies you are considering for the management of chemotherapy side effects so you can avoid potential interactions with your current medications or other treatments.

Ginger, taken in capsule or tincture form (liquid made from steeping the herb in alcohol and water), has been used to relieve chemotherapy-related nausea.

Blackberry, raspberry, and peppermint tea have been helpful in reducing chemotherapy-related diarrhea.

Ligustrum, taken as a tincture or tea, as well as medicinal mushrooms (reishi and shiitake, taken in tablet or tincture form), are used during chemotherapy to strengthen the immune system, which is often weakened as the result of anticancer drugs.

Milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver during chemotherapy treatments. It is taken in the form of a capsule, extract, or tea.

Siberian ginseng can be used during chemotherapy to treat hormonal imbalances. It is taken in the form of a capsule, extract, or tea.

Certain antioxidant supplements, including grape seed extract, beta-carotene, lutein, vitamin A, lycopene, vitamin C, selenium, vitamin E, zinc, and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), may have harmful effects when taken with certain chemotherapy drugs and should only be taken after first talking with your doctor.

Massage for Chemotherapy Side Effects
Therapeutic massage can be effective in reducing chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting for some patients. Massage can also be used to manage cancer treatment pain as well as reduce tension, anxiety, and stress. Because chemotherapy can increase a patient’s risk of infection, anemia, skin irritation and/or bruising, the massage therapist should modify the massage technique by avoiding areas that are visibly bruised, red, or inflamed. The massage therapist also should take special precautions to reduce the risk of infection while performing massage.

Reflexology can help relieve certain symptoms associated with chemotherapy including nausea, pain, and constipation. Reflexology is a massage technique in which pressure is applied to specific areas on the foot. Reflexology practitioners believe the condition of the feet mirrors the health of the entire body, and that certain reflex areas in the feet correspond to all glands, organs, and parts of the body.

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