Cancer Care: Beyond the Oncologist
For someone diagnosed with cancer, sorting through the treatment options can feel overwhelming. But it doesn't have to be that way. Naturopathic physicians (or NDs) are skilled at helping cancer patients sort through their options and can also provide additional choices — many of which may help cancer patients live longer, happier lives.
According to John Hibbs, ND, a physician at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, naturopathic physicians are a trusted and well-utilized source of cancer information. "Naturopathic physicians see a great number of people who have been diagnosed with cancer and we are trained in the pathology of malignancy," he says.
Determining a course of treatment
Dr. Hibbs explains that his patients with cancer usually want his help with deciding their course of treatment. So, the first thing he does is contact the patient's medical doctor (MD) or osteopathic doctor (DO) and oncologist to discuss the cancer and that doctor's recommended treatment plan. "I then determine the most likely outcome of various treatment methods so that we can sensibly and safely predict how effective various conventional and alternative therapies are likely to be for the patient," he says.
"After that, I present my research to the patient and we discuss the options. The discussion is often very empowering to patients. It is sometimes the first time they have heard how effective a certain conventional (or complementary) therapy could be in their case," he says.
Both conventional and complementary treatment
Hibbs explains that, per the terms of his licensure in WA, he may treat patients with cancer as long as he has done his best to ensure they also work with an oncologist. Sometimes Hibbs’ best advice is to get conventional chemo, radiation or surgery when this approach has been shown to be highly curative. Other times, e.g. when the patient refuses conventional oncology, or when conventional treatment has a poor survival rate and many side effects, Hibbs will recommend an alternative approach that is supported by good peer-reviewed research.
Naturopathic physicians can do quite a bit independently for patients with cancer, or in conjunction with a conventional plan — and their methods are gaining recognition. Over the past few years, various studies have demonstrated the positive effects of some herbs, vitamins, natural hormones, foods or food extracts for people who have cancer. "The data accumulating in medical journals about complementary medicine in cancer treatment is very exciting," says Hibbs, who usually has 5 to 10 cancer patients in his caseload at any one point in time. Hibbs explains that, depending on the type of cancer, naturopathic doctors can work with cancer patients to:
- Increase their chances of survival.
- Improve the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
- Attempt to slow down cancer cell and tumor growth.
- Encourage early death of cancer cells (apoptosis).
- Help facilitate recovery from toxic treatment (such as chemotherapy) and/or surgery.
- Minimize the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
- Stimulate the appetite (since cancer patients often have a greatly suppressed appetite).
- Boost the immune system.
Writer: Sydney Maupin, staff writer
Date: Updated July 2010
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