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Conventional vs. Alternative Cancer Treatments

by Dr. Francisco Contreras.

In conventional medicine, the focus is the disease: In alternative medicine, the focus is the patient. Let’s discuss conventional cancer treatment first. The goal of conventional oncology therapies—chemotherapy, radiation and surgery—is tumor eradication. Each of these three interventions can be extremely effective when used properly. In many cases, any one of the treatments will be the most appropriate for a patient and should be used.

An ethical oncologist must recognize the many shortcomings and failings of conventional therapy, however. Most everyone is aware of the negative side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. They depress the immune system and kill healthy cells as well as malignant cells. This can take a terrible toll on the patient’s quality of life and in some cases will actually shorten the patient’s life. But, there is an issue much more significant than the negative side effects. Cancer cells become resistant to therapy over time. Unfortunately, many patients who experienced a good outcome at first with chemotherapy or radiation will find that they no longer respond as well on subsequent cycles. Conventional medicine can be part of the solution but it is limited and usually does not extend the life of stage IV cancer patients for very long. This is why thousands of people seek out alternatives. Considering that less than 30% of people with stage IV breast cancer will survive longer than two years, it is understandable that many people want to see if there is another more promising approach.

The term “alternative medicine” can mean just about anything under the sun from vegan diets and juice regimens to reflexology and magnet therapy. The main focus and belief of alternative cancer treatment is that the immune system of the patient must be boosted to a healthy balance. Then, the body will heal itself of any illness from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. Juicing, vitamin and mineral supplements, detoxification and immune system building all have great merit. The truth is that God designed the human body with great abilities to heal itself. The body even has immune system cells that are specifically tasked with killing mutated cells. But, alternative medicine has many deficiencies as well.

To start with, just as there are many oncologists that know nothing about nutrition, there are many alternative medicine clinics that don’t have oncologists on staff, that is to say there is no one that was formally trained in cancer treatment. There is also often a lack of clinical trials that support the use of many alternative interventions. But here is the biggest shortcoming of alternative cancer treatments: Many cancers are just too aggressive to respond to purely natural medicine.

For years, oncologists have criticized alternative medicine doctors and accused many of being scam artists. Alternative doctors fought back stating that the failure rates of chemotherapy are unacceptable and that the treatments make the patients suffer more than the disease. The great news is that there is an emerging trend in cancer treatment called “Integrative Medicine.” This approach combines conventional medicine with alternative interventions that help overcome and compensate for the deficiencies of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. The traditional medicine is still used for tumors that are too aggressive to be treated by alternative medicine alone. The alternative interventions, however, help maintain the tumors treatable. Further, alternative therapies can actually make tumors more vulnerable to chemotherapy. Through alternatives, patients the negative side effects can be diminished so patients can tolerate chemo much better, and their immune system can be preserved.