Alternative Medicine & Leukemia Treatments

Doctors agree: leukemia has no single cause. Too many risk factors and unknowns about the human body still exist to limit the disease to just one culprit. As Western medicine realizes the complexity of diseases like leukemia, many doctors have also accepted that there may not be a single “best” treatment for restoring a patient back to health.

In this two-part Leukemia Newsletter, we explore the differences between Western medicine and alternative therapies. We also suggest some considerations for choosing an alterative (meaning “outside of Western medical practice”) or complementary (alternative therapies used along with Western medicine to ease treatment pain or promote faster healing) treatment.

How Western/Clinical Medicine Views Leukemia

Western medical science’s approach to leukemia treatments is problem-focused. This is in keeping with the scientific process’s control-and-variable experimentation. The primary focus of these experiments is the leukemia and not the patient, which are spoken about as two separate entities. This separation allows researchers through labs and testing to fine-tune leukemia treatments that attack and kill the cancerous cells. Western medical doctors then apply these researched leukemia treatments to eliminate the cancer.

This view leads to an efficiency that can ignore the patient as a whole person. Deep within Western medical science practice is the hope for a magic pill that will destroy disease without patients having to change their way of living.

How Alternative/Holistic Medicine Views Leukemia

The central idea of alternative medicine (sometimes called “holistic medicine” because it treats the entirety of a person’s mind-body health) is that the body has the power to heal itself. Its alternative therapies speak of the body as an universe composed of complex systems, the entirety of which must be balanced if illness is to be treated or prevented.

Alternative healers do not view leukemia as separate from the individual. In order to heal, leukemia patients must reach a mental/spiritual peace that resolves the body’s unhealthy imbalance. Instead of attacking an illness’s germ or parasite with pills or other treatments, alternative therapies offer a means of supplying guidance to the body’s natural defense systems through lifestyle change. This change often touches on areas of exercise, nutrition, and mental/spiritual health.

Criticisms of Medical Treatments and Alternative Cures

Western, experiment-based doctors criticize many alternative treatments for being untestable. While studies show that both placebos (a “sugar pill,” or a treatment that should show no medical effects) and alternative treatments have positive results in recovering leukemia patients (and suggest a mind-body link), some clinical doctors are hesitant to endorse treatments whose healing processes cannot be tested with instruments. Because alternative healing processes do not possess scientific basis or clear terminology, clinical doctors often refer to alternative cures as dangerous “pseudo” (Latin for “fake”) science.

Alternative medicine healers on their side argue that the view clinical doctors have of their leukemia patients is inhumane and harmful. Many healers suggest this negative view has a direct negative affect on the healing process. Western medicine doctors, these critics claim, see their patients with tunnel-vision terms of infections and afflictions, a view that sees neither the whole person nor the body as a delicate system seeking balance.

Additionally, alternative therapy healers see Western clinical practices as the “alternative” medicine. Most of clinical medicine’s treatments for leukemia and other diseases are at most only decades old and the modern view of the human body and defective genes, bad bacteria, and dangerous viruses is little over a century old. Western clinical treatments, based in experimentation, see these constant changes to our understanding as its strong-point. Skeptics of alternative therapies say that excluding ancient practices from modern medicine results not in a loss of wisdom but, rather, a loss of superstition and ignorance.

Many leukemia patients seek out alternative therapies to cure their cancer. Some do so after clinical science has been unable to heal them; others in the place of scientific treatment.

More leukemia patients are using alternative therapies to complement their Western treatments. Alternative complementary therapies can help a patient manage stress, nausea, pain, or other symptoms of leukemia or side effects of radiation or chemotherapy.

Some of these alternative leukemia therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Aromatherapy
  • Art and Other Expressive Therapy
  • Chiropractic
  • Herbal Remedies
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Prayer

Researching Alternative Leukemia Therapies

Leukemia patients can be easily taken advantage of by unscrupulous healers. This unfortunately occurs because dishonest people prey on the turbulent emotions and financial concerns facing leukemia patients.

When seeking any alternative treatment, do your research. Compare, compare, compare. Look at the claims made by different healers in the therapy that interests you. Compare these to the other healers. Ask questions. Ask where and when the healer was accredited. Ask for names of previous patients you can contact as references. Ask about deadlines: How long will treatment take? Ask what the likely outcomes are. And always have an initial consultation before beginning any alternative treatment or therapy.

When seeking out or using complementary therapies, make sure to let your clinical doctor know. Do not be afraid that your Western doctor might look down on alternative therapy. Over one-third of adults in the U.S. use some form of complementary or alternative medicine (and nearly two-thirds if prayer is included). Your doctor might even be able to recommend an alternative practitioner he or she has worked with previously.

Stay Informed of the Benefits and Risks

If a clinical doctor discourages you from continuing a complementary therapy or a holistic healer from using a Western therapy, try for an open discussion with the professional and listen to the reasons why. Sometimes more is not better. Interactions between two different therapies can have a negative effect, much like how mixing two individually effective household cleaners (bleach and ammonia) can have toxic results.

St. John’s wort (used to boost the spirits of someone suffering depression) and other herbs can likewise have increase the toxicity of certain chemicals or make skin more sensitive to radiation. Even Vitamin C supplements can affect your treatment. Though something is natural or otherwise said to be good for you, make sure to check with your doctors first before taking or using a new drug or remedy.

The Future of Leukemia Therapies

Western science in the last decade has gained new means of attacking cancer-producing leukemia cells, but its greatest accomplishment may be its incorporating complementary therapies into its practices. Alternative approaches help patients survive toxic leukemia treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy by helping patients deal with pain and giving them the inner strength and assurances needed during trying times.

Clinical trials for alternative and complementary therapies for leukemia patients are opening all the time. Check out the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of National Institutes of Health, which is an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) listing to see what alternative clinical trials are open to enrollment in your area.

Lawyers for Change

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