Cancer requires scrupulous medical and surgical treatment. Nonetheless, certain alternative therapies may play an adjunctive role in its care.
Herbal MedicineHerbalists have long recommended tropical periwinkle to treat breast cancer and other malignancies. Indeed, a periwinkle alkaloid is used to make vincristine, a very potent chemotherapy agent. Oncologists stress, however, that this drug should be used only under careful medical supervision rather than to resort to herbal periwinkle extracts, which can be highly toxic.Meditation, Self Hypnosis And VisualizationStudies indicate that women with advanced breast cancer who participate in group support sessions that include these techniques have significantly longer survival rates than those who do not. Scientists have not yet been able to explain this effect, but some theorize that the methods mobilize the immune system to fight the further spread of cancer.Nutrition TherapySome nutritionists recommend daily supplements of beta carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and vitamins C and E, both to help prevent cancer and to slow its growth. However, studies suggest that foods high in these antioxidants are more effective. Good sources of beta carotene are orange and dark green vegetables and yellow and orange fruits; of vitamin C, many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus fruits and bell peppers; of vitamin E, wheat germ, legumes, seafood, and poultry. Although the role of other dietary components remains controversial, some studies suggest that a low-fat diet may cut the risk of breast cancer and its recurrence. Such a regimen requires limiting the intake of all fats, especially those from animals, as well as animal protein, while increasing foods high in fiber, such as whole grain products and fresh fruits and vegetables. Other nutrition therapists and some naturopaths may recommend extreme macrobiotic and other restricted, low calorie diets for breast cancer patients. Oncologists warn that these diets should be avoided because they do not provide adequate calories, protein, and other nutrients that the body needs for recovery or to prevent the wasting that occurs in advanced cancer. Yog regular practice of yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help alleviate the stress and anxiety caused by cancer, which in turn may boost immune system function.Self TreatmentIncreasingly, women are expected to playa decision making role in their overall treatment. This demands being well informed and not hesitating to question your doctor and voice your concerns. Under the best of circumstances, a diagnosis of breast cancer is psychologically devastating. Joining a support group such as the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program, or simply talking to women who have recovered from breast cancer, can be reassuring. Concerns about physical appearance following a mastectomy are normal. However, women who do not undergo immediate breast reconstruction are usually relieved to find that, with a well fit prosthesis, they can wear most of their clothing without anyone being able to tell they have had this surgery. Initially, use a temporary prosthesis such as cotton fluff inserted into your regular bra, or one that is slightly larger to accommodate bandages. lake this to the hospital with you to avoid the stress of finding something to wear for the trip home. After healing is complete, plan to shop for a permanent prosthesis. Some regular lingerie departments sell breast prostheses, but you may feel more comfortable and find a wider selection at a specialty shop. Make sure that you tryon several different types. Prices vary, but many insurance policies and Medicare cover at least part of the cost. If you cannot find a ready-made prosthesis that looks and feels right, consider investing in a customized one made to match exactly the contour of your other breast.A prosthesis usually is not necessary after a lumpectomy, but a bra should be worn day and night for several days following surgery to prevent traction of the wound and to help the breast regain its previous shape. Self help measures can help to minimize common complications affecting the arm and hand on the mastectomy side. To minimize swelling, exercise your arm as soon as your surgeon says it is okay. Lift it as high as you comfortably can several times a day to promote the flow of lymph. Also, "walk" your fingers up a wall as high as possible and do isometric, or pumping, exercises for the hand such as squeezing a rubber ball. If arm swelling still occurs, talk to your doctor about wearing an elastic sleeve to reduce swelling and improve lymph flow. If lymph nodes have been removed, the arm and hand on that side are more vulnerable to infection. It is best to avoid anything that constricts or burdens them. Wear loose fitting clothing and switch your watch and purse to the opposite arm. Also have blood drawn or blood pressure measured on the opposite arm. Try to minimize cuts or injuries; for example, use an electric razor if you shave underarm hair; wear protective gloves for gardening and other tasks; and use special care when trimming nails and cuticles. If you do get a cut or burn, wash it immediately with soap and water and apply an antiseptic plus an antibiotic cream. Consult your doctor promptly if an infection develops.Other Causes of Breast SymptomsMany women experience swelling and tenderness of the breasts as part of premenstrual syndrome. Benign fibrocystic breast lumps are also exceedingly common. Nursing mothers often develop mastitis, a bacterial breast infection.