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More cancer patients, doctors explore alternative therapies

Herbal remedies  
June 12, 1998
Web posted at: 8:56 p.m. EDT (0056 GMT)

From Reporter Louise Schiavone

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- When it comes to prolonging and improving the quality of life for cancer patients, where should traditional medicine end and alternative medicine begin?

That's one of the questions being explored at a unique gathering in Washington of traditional doctors and advocates of alternative therapies, who are looking at ways the two treatments can work together to help cancer patients.

Acupuncture therapy  

For people like Georgia Irvin, who has colon cancer, traditional treatments such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can take such a toll that they look outside of conventional medicine for relief.

"I was taking all sorts of anti-nausea medication, which made me a zombie," she says. "And then I started the acupuncture and the yoga and the deep-body massage. And I didn't need it and I felt better."

Today, more and more doctors are listening to these patients and opening the door to integrating alternative treatments.


According to Dr. David Rosenthal of the American Cancer Society, that's a change from the past, when some doctors used to tell patients that "if you're going to do those things, then don't use me as your doctor."

"I think many clinicians, many physicians, are now listening and also learning about complementary therapies," Rosenthal says.

Today, alternative therapies -- tai chi, meditation, acupuncture, teas, herbs and more -- constitute a $13 billion annual business in the United States. Policymakers say that given their popularity, there should be solid research to back up the efficacy of those treatments.

With at least 50 percent of cancer patients using alternative medicine, "they deserve thorough and well-researched information," says U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

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