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Complementary / Alternative Treatments for Lung Cancer

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Updated October 31, 2012

What alternative therapies work for lung cancer? Unfortunately, the prognosis for many people who develop lung cancer is not very good. Western medicine has made strides in diagnosis and extending life, but fails far too often to achieve what we would hope. For this reason, many look to complementary or alternative lung cancer therapies, such as acupuncture and herbs, to fill the gap. Though practiced long before traditional medicine came to be, many of these therapies lack the kind of scientific studies that physicians look to when forming a treatment plan; making recommendations that stem from solid research is called “evidence-based medicine.”

Most of us have heard anecdotal reports about individuals that had wonderful results from some form of complementary therapy. Do any of these methods have the scientific backing to show that recommending their use in lung cancer could be considered “evidence-based medicine?”

In 2007, the American College of Chest Physicians pulled together a team of over 100 investigators -- from oncologists to nutritionists -- to review the studies published to date. Based on a risk-benefit ratio (believing that the benefits of therapy would outweigh any risks), they came up with a list of therapies that they considered helpful in treating the symptoms of lung cancer.

The treatments include:

Symptoms that these therapies were found most effective in include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain (may help decrease the number of pain medications needed)
  • Nausea

Massage therapy was found to be most helpful for anxiety and pain; acupuncture was found to be most beneficial for shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, and pain due to lung cancer surgery and chemotherapy-induced nerve pain.

Of course, not all complementary therapies with potential have been studied to the degree required to recommend them according to “evidence-based medicine." Given the limitations in the treatment of lung cancer at this time, many choose to use these. It is important to discuss any of these treatments with your oncologist before trying them, especially if you looking to combine them with mainstream medical treatment. Some therapies, especially in the case of nutritional supplements, can interfere with surgery or decrease the effectiveness of chemotherapy or radiation.

Source:
Complementary Therapies and Integrative Oncology in Lung Cancer: ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines (2nd edition). 2007. Cassileth, B. et al. Chest. 132:340S-354.

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