Cancer Treatment: Complementary and Alternative Medical Methodologies

May 2nd, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

A little-known center within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is beginning to get national attention.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine was established in October 1998; it’s parent organization was the Office of Alternative Medicine, established in October 1991.

NCCAM is the Federal Government’s lead agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It is one of the 27 institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health (NIH) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The mission of NCCAM is to:

  • Explore complementary and alternative healing practices in the context of rigorous science (italics added for emphasis).
  • Train complementary and alternative medicine researchers.
  • Disseminate authoritative information to the public and professionals.

A list of treatments currently being studied (and listed on the Internet site home page) includes

The message in all this that is very heartening for those of us seniors who believe in the benefits of ancient Chinese medicine and herbal remedies, and Ayurvedic medicine (healing system of India), is that a place is being made in modern health care systems for alternative medical care.  Neither system is replacing the other; there is room for both in our world today.  This is an amazing change!  The global criticism of ancient and herbal medicines is that they lack rigorous scientific studies to either prove or disprove their effectiveness.  As a result, medical science has succeeded in pooh-poohing claims of treatment and even cure.  However, that is now beginning to change. With studies on the effectiveness of many complementary/alternative treatments, medical science will have better information on which to base treatment recommendations that may include CAM.

Elder patients using both conventional and alternative medical systems talk about the hope they experience as a result of the combination of treatments. For example, CAM (Complementary/Alternative Medicine) is now a recognized form of treatment for cancer patients.  A physician in Waco, Texas, said, “The concept of hope and a fighting spirit, how powerful can that be in fighting cancer?”  (Gary Elkins, Director of the Mind Body Medicine Research Laboratory , Baylor University).  Ann Fonfa is a breast cancer survivor and created an Internet site ten years ago that is devoted to the dissemination of information about CAM, all the way from cutting-edge research to personal survivor stories.  Links to her site appear on dozens of other sites, demonstrating the measure of respect she has achieved among leaders in the field of cancer research and treatment.

Fonfa said, in a recent interview with AARP Bulletin, “I’m a great believer in scientific evidence.  But it’s very hard to get studies funded, especially studies that aren’t looking at a block-buster drug.  Most of the time there isn’t very good evidence yet.  But people with cancer can’t wait for the perfect study to be done.  You try to learn everything you can.  And then you make a leap of faith.”  (AARP Bulletin April, 2010)

With more studies being done on alternative and complementary treatment for cancer and other catastrophic illness, seniors everywhere can look forward to  improved options for treatment that include taking advantage of the wisdom of ancient cultures.



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