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From the Townsend Letter
August / September 2018

Cancer Care: Conventional, Complementary, Alternative?
by Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc
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What Should You Consider?
"Do I go against everything I believe about living a healthy life and do what these doctors, who don't even know me, tell me are my only choices: surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation?" Many patients have shared this inner struggle with their naturopath. It makes sense to most of us, and it is likely how we'd feel in your shoes (and many NDs have been cancer patients as well.) You might be thinking, I'll eat even healthier, do cleansing and detoxification, take herbs and mushroom extracts, medical marijuana, cottage cheese and flax seeds. Maybe even do hyperbaric and IV-vitamins, supplements, acupuncture and herbal medicines or the other dozens of possible natural therapies.
How can you discern between fear of conventional treatment and your inner-wisdom that says I know this isn't right for me? Is now the time to do what feels right and forgo convention? Each situation is unique. Consider the risks and the benefits of both, what you know about yourself, perhaps get the opinions of experts in natural medicine for your personal situation and then ask yourself: "Will I ever be willing to do any form of conventional medicine?" Often patients want to try natural medicine first, saving chemotherapy or surgery if that fails. My experience tells me that most often, if you said you'd ever be willing, and it is logical to those who know the details of your case, do the conventional medicine sooner rather than later. It is an issue of timing. If you knew you'd have the perfect combination of natural factors for that sailboat to catch up to the speedboat, you'd do it. But, if you have a form of cancer that 'can't wait' to try natural-only methods, you will likely be encouraged to compromise your health-related beliefs in the short term, undergo a medical treatment you dread, and follow that up with the best of natural medicine.
If you do use complementary natural medicine during conventional medical cancer treatment, it is strongly advised that you a) use a licensed naturopathic physician or other integrative doctor who has expertise in the type of CAM you are choosing b) inform your oncologist about what you are taking c) use high quality products that can provide a certificate of analysis proving that they are tested for purity and contamination d) take therapeutic doses of well-researched natural medicines instead of a smattering of a lot of things you read about online e) make sure that you and your natural practitioner are watching out for negative interactions with other medications or conditions and f) if you are using alternative methods, choose a treatment facility or practitioner that is well-vetted by an objective source such as to avoid shams.

In conclusion, nearly 1.1 million Americans will use complementary and/or alternative medicine during or after going through conventional medical cancer treatment. We don't know how many patients choose to forgo these allopathic treatments and instead seek natural cures. The types of complementary natural medicine chosen during conventional cancer treatment vary greatly from taking a yoga class to travelling to comprehensive integrative cancer clinics in Europe or Mexico. While the body of research on the safety of complementary cancer care is growing rapidly, there are little data on success and failure rates of alternative protocols. This dearth of research leaves patients who are instinctively drawn to natural medicine to create their own plan of action with insufficient confidence in either system. Some gather all their financial resources to go abroad to be treated by those with excellent training in both conventional and alternatives. Some find the cure they were hoping for. For some, the timing, training, or resources have failed them. Those without financial resources or who are more comfortable being treated near home may seek guidance from local licensed holistic health providers with enough experience in oncology to give them great advice.
It is my belief that we, as practitioners of natural medicine, are obliged to counsel cancer patients in an individualized manner based on their goals, the type and stage of their cancer, the success rates of conventional therapies, and potential conventional clinical trials for which they may meet the criteria. We owe patients the truth about our current limitations, balanced with the hopes of our powerful medicines, and proper counsel to help them make an informed decision about when, how much, and what type of natural medicines create a plan that they will feel confident in.
There is a time to move forward, a time to pause and a time to retreat. Knowing oneself and being educated in your choices will help you to know what is next for you. In the long run, this is your experience to direct in any way that you feel is right for you. If you aren't sure what to do next, take one step and perhaps you will discover more options than you could see before. This is an incredible time in the field of oncology. While I wish no one had cancer, I have more hope than I ever did before – in both conventional and natural treatments used hand-in-hand.

What Could Be Next?
My wish list includes a survey of natural oncology practitioners to identify who has had success and with what methods. Next, a case conference to share experiences combined with roundtable discussions. Finally, a privately or institutionally funded not-for-profit research institute to explore the possibilities of both alternative and complementary natural approaches dedicated to individualized cancer treatment and transparency.

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SUPPORTThe Townsend Letter is dedicated to examining and reporting on functional and integrative medicine. Our editorial content depends on support from readers like you, and we would appreciate your help to keep this content forthcoming. Please take this opportunity to contribute $50, or choose one of the other amounts listed on the next page, and ensure that our independent voices keep up the good fight against the skeptics, who would like to silence us and eliminate your medical freedoms.

Dr. Barb MacDonald, ND, LAc, can be reached by emailing

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8.     Johnson SB, et al. Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival.
Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Published online August 10, 2017.
9.     PubMed Health. Behind the headlines: health news from NHS. Accessed on 3/11/18 at

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