Editor's note: I do not have any personal experience with alternative cancer therapies, however, as a scientist, I am curious about them. I looked in the public library for books on the topic, and while there are a lot of good books available, the one I spent the most time with is Evaluating Alternative Cancer Therapies by David J. Hess, Ph. D. (Rutgers University Press 1999). Hess presents the politics of alternative cancer medicine and the therapies themselves in a series of interviews with practioners, supporters, and journalists. Another book I like is Natural Compounds in Cancer Therapy by John Boik (Oregon Medical Press, 2001, see my comments on this book).
Parents of children with cancer might persue an alternative therapy route if conventional therapy has failed or a if proven therapy is not available. Another reason parents might be interested in an alternative therapy is if a friend or relative tells them about a specific alternative therapy that they "just must use!" for their child. Some parents might simply not believe in conventional therapy; if so, they need to research alternative therapies by reading both sides: the views of those offering (or selling) the therapies and the views of the scientific establishment or the authors of web sites like QuackWatch.
Information on alternative therapies is listed here for your information; this ped-onc site neither endorses nor discourages alternative and complementary treatments. My goal, as editor, is to direct readers to sites that explain how to determine if an alternative therapy has merit and also to overview available alternative medicine treatments for cancer.
Complementary and alternative therapies, or CAM, are treatments outside the conventional medical community. Compared to conventional chemotherapies, CAM therapies employ non-toxic agents. Most are based on nutrition, non-toxic pharmacological, and immunologic strategies as well as psychological, social, and spiritual ideas to build up the mind and body so that it can fight off the cancer. Usually these therapies do not cause tumors to shrink dramatically, but they can increase a cancer patient's life span while maintaining a good quality of life.
Not all alternative therapies for cancer do any good at all, but some do deserve further research. Compared to treatments which originate in the medical establishment, there is very little scientific literature on alternative therapies. Alternative medicine proponents and (even) the government recognize this discrepancy and are working to rectify the situation. (See the reference to NCCAM below; also note John Boik's Natural Compound in Cancer Treatment.)
Acceptable CAM treatments do no harm and may or may not do good, enhance conventional therapy, reduce side effects, and do not interfere with conventional therapy. Unacceptable CAM treatments do harm, cause psychological damage, and cost a lot of money.
Ped-Onc Resource Center on Alternative Therapies (this site!)
Alternative medicines on this ped-onc site are presented via three methods of summary: by well-known names in alternative therapies, by specific alternative therapies, and by links to external web sites which discuss the topic of alternative cancer therapies Not many (if any) of the people, therapies, or links mention pediatric cancers specifically.
- Complementary Therapies (usually safe and probably used by a lot of families)
Important External Links
The best place to start when considering alternative treatment is Steve Dunn's section on Alternative Therapies in the CancerGuide. Steve has an intelligent, open-minded approach to alternative therapies and presents guidelines for evaluating treatments, as well as discussions of some of the treatments and links to other web sites and books with more information. Steve Dunn highly recommends Steven Barrett's Quack watch:
- quack watch on cancer therapies (can also try the searchable database at The National Council Against Health Fraud)
The NIH established the National Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, in 1999; from 1992-1998, the NCCAM was called Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). Read the purpose of NCCAM on their web site. In 2001, the NCCAM teamed with the National Library of Medicine to launch CAM on PubMed: CAM on PubMed contains bibliographic citations (1966-present) related to complementary and alternative medicine: