While alternative medicinal treatments have yet to cure breast cancer, there is a place for alternative and complementary medical treatments for mitigating some of the effects of breast cancer and its adjuvant therapies, ranging from dietary changes and acupuncture to massage and guided imagery techniques.
Alternative treatment methods are focused primarily on helping cancer patients and survivors cope with fatigue, which can persist beyond the completion of treatments.
Also, whatever treatments you opt to try, be sure to fill your doctor in.
Diet plays a huge role in managing symptoms, but food is also key because you want to stay as strong as you can to support your treatment in fighting the cancer itself. Make sure that you’re well nourished and maintain lean body mass so you can complete chemotherapy and have fairly stable immunity.
A good diet should include all the usual suspects: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and also plenty of lean protein, such as turkey, chicken, and fish.
Supplements and herbs
• Black cohosh herb has certain compounds that kill estrogen receptor positive MCF-7 as well as estrogen receptor negative MDA-MB231 cells by activation of caspases and induction of apoptosis.
• Bitter melon extract has been shown in lab studies to fight breast cancer cells in vitro.
• Cat’s claw herb has anticancer properties.
• Curcumin is extracted from the spice turmeric, often found in the mixed spice blend curry.
• Fish oil supplement use may be of benefit. In a study of more than 35,000 postmenopausal women, those who regularly used fish oil supplements were one-third less likely than non-users to develop breast cancer over the next six years. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, July 2010.
• Genistein, one of the isoflavones, has weak estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties. It may be one of the components in the soy-based Asian diet that helps prevent breast cancer by its effects on biochemistry early in life. Reduced caloric consumption by Asians may be another reason for the lower rate. Soy isoflavone genistein induces cell death in breast cancer cells. Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Life Sciences, AMU, Aligarh, India. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2010 Dec.
• Indole-3-Carbinol has been studied as a possible treatment for breast cancer, it is found in cabbage.
IP6 has in vivo and in vitro anti- cancer activity. Patients receiving chemotherapy, along with IP6 and Inositol have better quality of life and functional status and are able to perform their daily activities.
• Mangosteen fruit and rind has xanthones that have strong anti-proliferation effects and can induce apoptosis.
• Melatonin is a hormone supplement used for sleep.
• Reishi is a mushroom that may be helpful.
• Resveratrol has been found helpful in mouse studies. Resveratrol is an interesting molecule that has a lot of potential.
• Saw palmetto may slow the growth of breast cancer cells.
• Sulforaphane, found in broccoli and brussel sprouts, hinders the growth of human breast cancer cells in the lab. It does so by apparently disrupting the action of protein microtubules within the cells, which are vital for the success of cell division. A study in rats showed that oral sulforaphane blocked the formation of breast tumors, and scientists have found that the chemical can push colon cancer cells to die off.
• Vitamin D may reduce breast cancer risk. In vitro studies indicate that it can inhibit cell proliferation and promote apoptosis and cell differentiation in breast tumor tissue. Results from analytic studies of sunlight exposure and dietary intake generally support a modestly protective role of vitamin D, at least in some population subgroups.
Regular needling sessions have also been shown to be helpful in relieving pain, acupuncture may help with nausea, fatigue, hot flashes, and neuropathy.
A 2005 study found that breast cancer patients who got either a massage or did a progressive muscle relaxation exercise for 30 minutes three times a week for five weeks felt less depressed and angry and had more energy, along with better immunity.
Stress reduction and visualization
Under stress, we all experience the fight-or-flight response, which releases chemicals into our system and muscles get stressed and tight, there are some techniques for turning on the relaxation response, and turning off that stress response.
Exercise is therapeutic and, like good nutrition, should be a staple of any treatment regimen. Yoga, with its inherent mind-body focus, may be especially useful for cancer patients.