Despite the fact that cancer has become more common in modern-day society, nothing can be more shocking than receiving that first diagnosis. You may still be in that initial shock phase, or you may have begun researching about your condition and upcoming treatments. Even if you feel prepared, it can still be difficult to know what exactly lies ahead. In fact, many patients underestimate how dramatically cancer can affect them physically, mentally and emotionally.
In naturopathic medicine, we take an integrative approach to cancer care, helping to maintain our patients’ dignity and quality of life. As the patient treats the disease with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, naturopathic medicine works to support the patients’ strength and stamina. This is done through evidence-based therapies, such as intravenous therapies and principal supplements. Here, the ultimate goal is to help reduce treatment delays or interruptions, along with helping patients get the most out of life.
Integrative cancer care has two layers. First, conventional treatments (such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) attack the disease itself. At the same time, evidence-based naturopathic treatments help combat cancer-related side effects as well as the cancer itself. The two together, conventional cancer treatments and supportive and complementary naturopathic treatments, can help cancer patients achieve the best possible outcome.
Cancer can ignite many feelings in a patient – a shock from the diagnosis, fear of the unknown, ambiguity over the future, or just a feeling that they have lost control of their life. These emotions can quickly lead to anxiety and stress, causing headaches, fatigue, loss of appetite, insomnia and other symptoms. In naturopathic medicine, we carry out routine hormone testing to balance out the hormones caused by stress and anxiety. In doing so, we are able to manage the effects of these emotional upheavals.
Cancer patients often suffer from chronic sleeplessness or insomnia, where they find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This will lead to fatigue, memory and concentration problems, coupled with mood disturbances. In such cases, intravenous vitamins, minerals and amino acids, along with supplements and acupuncture are helpful in overcoming bouts of insomnia. When natural sleeping patterns resume, the body will have a better opportunity to heal.
Some cancers themselves and conventional cancer treatments can lead to disturbances in a patient’s digestive tract. These disturbances can include heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea and are common side effects of the chemotherapy and radiation. Specific food allergy testing will help guide any necessary changes to the patient’s diet, and naturopathic therapeutic interventions will help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract – all alleviating digestive upset.
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of cancer treatment, particularly when there are long-term radiation therapy and chemotherapy involved. These digestive disruptions may affect the patient’s quality of life and delay important treatments. Nausea and vomiting can also lead to other physical issues, including malnutrition and dehydration. In naturopathic medicine, once again, intravenous hydration protocols and specialized supplements, along with specific B vitamins can help mitigate nausea and vomiting, thereby improving appetite and absorption of nutrients for optimal health and recovery from chemotherapy and radiation.
Cancer treatments that can alter taste or smell may impact a patient’s appetite, leading to undesirable weight loss. Digestive concerns caused by cancer treatments may also affect a patient’s ability to ingest sufficient nutrients to sustain normal body functions. As a result, significant weight loss can delay or even interrupt vital treatments. In naturopathic medicine, a physician can administer the fundamental vitamins, minerals and amino acids via an intravenous drip, bypassing the affected digestive tract, thereby negating and preventing weight loss.
Fatigue is a common side effect of cancer and its treatments, especially for patients who are in pain or undergoing a combination of treatments. Typically, it comes on suddenly, does not result from activity or exertion, and is not relieved by rest or sleep. Treatments may require a variety of approaches, namely intravenous treatments and supplements. Intravenous treatments can range from using high dose Vitamin C to the Myer’s cocktail to Alpha Lipoic acid and Glutathione. Supplements can range from Green Tea Extract to Coenzyme Q10 to Curcumin or Tumeric extracts to help improve the patient’s energy.
Many cancer patients experience varying levels of pain, either from the disease itself or the tests and treatments used to diagnose and fight the cancer. Pain can also lead to additional side effects, including nausea and fatigue, thus making symptom management the key to quality of life. With various adjunctive cancer care options, the naturopathic physician is able to tailor a treatment to help negate or reduce the severity of the pain, which might include high doses of Vitamin C intravenously.
Peripheral neuropathy is a common side effect of cancer and its treatment, especially with chemotherapy and other anti-cancer medications. Manifested by numbness, pain and muscle weakness (especially in the extremities) it can dramatically influence patients’ quality of life and may lead to additional complications, such as foot ulcers and gangrene. There are a few naturopathic medical treatment options for peripheral neuropathy, but intravenous alpha lipoic acid and acupuncture are excellent choices.
A common side effect of radiation therapy includes changes in the skin around the treatment area. These changes typically consist of itchiness, dryness, swelling, peeling and often-painful red marks that look and feel like sunburns. These “burns” are instigated when ionizing radiation interacts with skin cells making it difficult to grow new layers of skin quickly. Curcumin extract from Tumeric is one of the most important Naturopathic treatments for radiation burns.
Overall, Naturopathic Medicine offers many options to a patient going through cancer treatment. Based on the type of cancer or the side effects from the chemotherapy or radiation, there are a wide range of Naturopathic supplements and individualized intravenous treatments available to improve a patients’ outlook. Through this integrative approach, a Naturopathic Physician can support a patient physically, mentally and emotionally through this difficult diagnosis, ultimately helping them get the most out of life.
Dr. Sanjay Mohan Ram, B.Sc.(Hon.), N.D.