Complementary and Alternative Medicine refers to the practices for therapeutic care that are not part of the standard medical care. In this case, standard medical care is that which is recommended by medical doctors and other allied health professionals such as the Physician Assistants and Registered Nurses. Complementary medicine is carried out alongside the standard care while alternative medicine is applied alone. Some of these practices that have been rendered safe for use include acupuncture, special diets, and herbal medicine. Integrative medicine applying standard and complementary approach have been found to improve the quality of life for cancer patients by treating the mind, the body, and spirit of the patient (Bar-sela, Danos, Visel, Mashiach, &Mitnik, 2015). This paper identifies some of these practices their safety, and contribution to the improvement of the quality of lives of Cancer patients.
The quality of life includes the physical, psychological and the spiritual dimensions of the life of a person. According to Aghabati, Mohammadi, and Esmaiel (2010), Cancer pain is multifaceted, and in additional to the physical agony, it also affects the victims socially and psychologically. Therefore, a wide range of pharmacological and non-pharmacological techniques have been put forward to improve the health condition of these patients. Standard care practices such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and aggressive surgeries have been used to prolong the rate of survival for Cancer patients while disregarding the quality of life. Even so, Singh and Chaturvedi (2015) indicates that up to sixty percent of cancer patients suffer uncontrolled chronic pain, fatigue, anxiety, and psychological torture making them prefer dying rather than living a miserable life. It is for this reason that complementary and alternative medicine has been attempted to improve the quality of life. Accordingly, institutions for Cancer have collaborated with organizations offering Complementary and Alternative Medicine therapies in providing palliative care (Zheng & Xue, 2013). It has seen an increasing number of patients using CAM, probably due to dissatisfaction and inadequacy with the standard medical care.
Even though medications and surgeries are the mainstay treatments for Cancer, they have limitations that deteriorate the quality of life of the patients. Some of the primary side effects include nausea and vomiting, and constipation. In some cases, according to Singh and Chaturvedi (2015), patients still report severe chronic pain even when on medication. Therefore, comprehensive care for cancer patients calls for blending of the standard care with CAM practices to alleviate the cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions of pain. Evidence has shown that this kind of therapy improves the quality of sleep and mood, and reduces anxiety and levels of stress (Wyatt, Sikorskii, Wills, & Su, 2010).
Acupuncture is one of the most widely used alternative medicine for Cancer patients. It has its origins in the Traditional Chinese Medicine but has been incorporated as a scientific method for treating Cancer (Singh &Chaturvedi, 2015). It involves the stimulation of particular parts of the body to relieve pain. It has been used to complement chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer for its effect on reducing nausea and vomiting which is highly loathed by the patients (Wyatt et al., 2010). Additionally, research studies have indicated that it can be used to relieve joint pains in patients taking aromatase inhibitors, xerostomia, and hot flashes in breast and prostate cancer patients. These effects reduce the agony of cancer patients who suffer from such side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Research studies have also shown that acupuncture also has potential effects of rapid analgesia through the deep insertion of needles and active stimulation (Zheng &Xue, 2013). Therefore, medical specialists are exploring the method as a possible adjunctive treatment to improve the life of Cancer patients under medication. However, more information about its safety, practicability, feasibility and potential side effects need to be considered before the method is documented.
Yoga is also another form of CAM practice originating from the ancient system. It involves physical exercises in which the patient stays in different poses and with techniques for breathing to increase the energy of living, also referred to as prana. Although various research studies have recommended this practice for Cancer survivors, there is little evidence of its capability to alleviate pain (Tul, Unruh &Dick, 2010). However, patients whom the practice has been applied to have come forward to report how it helped them regain energy, hope, and strength. While standard care methods such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy cause emotional burden and tremendous stress, using Yoga as a complementary medical therapy generates a feeling of mind and body relaxation.
According to Tul et al. (2010), Yoga practices, in addition to stimulating muscles, they also balance the glands and improve blood and lymphatic flow which is critical in the internal purification of the body. The breathing techniques, in which the patient takes deep breaths helps in improving oxygen circulation to body cells, delivery of nutrients, and clearing toxins. Therefore, it can be used as a complement in Cancer patients recovering from surgery to restore muscle relaxation. Several studies have also linked Yoga to improved mood and sleep, reduced depression and anxiety, and in effect, the quality of life (Singh &Chaturvedi, 2015). For this reason, Cancer patients have embraced the practice after undergoing the conventional methods of treating the illness. However, there is a need for more study to establish their effect on the physical pain.
This method is being used for the psychological treatment of patients experiencing chronic pain. It is executed in three steps starting with educating the patient about pain. According to Jamison (2016), in this case, pain refers to a series of emotional and sensory discomfort influenced by the feelings, behavior, and thoughts. The patients learn the influence of their thoughts and feelings on the actual pain and their roles in coping or alleviating it. They are then given skills of pain management, each with its scientific rationale. The third step involves practicing these skills in a home setting. Finally, the care giver assists the patient in developing a program for practicing these skills and overcoming any challenges that may draw them back. An example of these skills includes re-interpreting sensations of pain, diverting attention, and passive and active coping (Jamison, 2016). Additionally, spiritual beliefs about pain and death are integrated into this practice in palliative care. This way, the agony of excessive use of analgesics and the financial constraints associated with it are reduced. However, the absence of enough studies establishing the effectiveness of this therapy calls for more trials in future to improve the management of Cancer pain.
Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This CAM therapy involves delivering electrical stimulation of low voltage to leads placed on the skin of parts that are aching. Research studies have established its efficiency given that positive results were given by Cancer patients using the method for one to three months and up to twenty-five percent of the patients using it four years later (Singh &Chaturvedi, 2015). However, this therapy should be used with limitations. For instance, the electrodes should not be used in some parts of the body such as open wounds or infections, eyes, genitals, or during pregnancy. It is also not recommended for people using artificial pacemakers, or other devices implanted in the body, in undiagnosed pain, and epilepsy (Bar-sela et al., 2015). For this reason, patients should seek advice from a medical specialist before engaging in such practice as CAM. According to Singh and Chaturvedi (2015), it is primarily used for refractory pain that is not responding to conventional therapies such as NSAIDs, physical therapy, or ice packs. Cancer patients who have adopted this therapy are therefore living in less pain.
In addition to the physical pain experienced by Cancer patients, they also suffer from psychological discomfort and fatigue brought about by the conventional interventions such as chemotherapy, surgery, or radiotherapy. Side effects brought about by these treatments end up in reducing the quality of life of the patients. It is for this reason that Complementary and Alternative Medicine has been recommended. The quality of life for the Cancer patients can be improved by combining the standard management with practices such as Acupuncture, Yoga, Behavioral-Cognitive Therapy, and Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation. Research studies have established their efficiency in various situations and their role in reducing the burden of Cancer pain. However, there is a need for more randomized trials for such methods to be documented. Due to the limitations of some of these methods, patients are required to discuss with their medical practitioners on the possible effects, and contraindications if any. Modern medicine practice calls for an integration of CAM therapies into the care of Cancer patients not only to improve the rates of survival but also to make the quality of life for the patients better.
Aghabati, N., Mohammadi, E., & Pour Esmaiel, Z. (2010). The Effect of Therapeutic Touch on Pain and Fatigue of Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(3), 375-381. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ecam/nen006Bar-Sela, G., Danos, S., Visel, B., Mashiach, T., & Mitnik, I. (2015). The effect of the complementary and alternative medicine on the quality of life, depression, anxiety, and fatigue levels among cancer patients during active oncology treatment: phase II study. Supportive Care in Cancer, 23(7), 1979-1985. Doi: 10.1007/s00520-014-2560-1
Jamison, R. (2016). Are we ready for telehealth cognitive behavioral therapy for pain? PAIN, 1. http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000801
Singh, P. & Chaturvedi, A. (2015). Complementary and alternative medicine in cancer pain management: A systematic review. Indian Journal of Palliative Care, 21(1), 105. http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/0973-1075.150202Tul, Y., Unruh, A., & Dick, B. (2010). Yoga for chronic pain management: a qualitative exploration. Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences, 25(3), 435-443. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6712.2010.00842.x
Wyatt, G., Sikorskii, A., Wills, C., & Su, H. (2010). Complementary and alternative medicine use, spending, and quality of life in early-stage breast cancer. Nursing Research, 59(1), 58-66. doi:10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181c3bd26
Zheng, Z. & Xue, C. (2013). Pain Research in Complementary and Alternative Medicine in Australia: A Critical Review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(2), 81-91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1089/acm.2011.0233
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