Complementary and Alternative Therapies (CAM) and Breast Cancer: Your Tax Dollars at Work

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When you think about using Reiki, traditional Chinese medicine, or dietary supplements to treat breast cancer, do you feel yourself start to shut down? “Whoa, hold on; let’s stick to facts here. I want the best treatment possible for my breast cancer; don’t hand me that wacky stuff, I want only scientifically proven treatments. I want to play it safe; let’s just do what the National Cancer Institute says.”

    Surprising though it may seem for a venerable government agency, the National Cancer Institute (an arm of the National Institutes of Health) devotes a great amount of study to non-traditional treatments, via its Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM). Established in 1998 and directed by medical doctors, OCCAM’s mission is “To improve the quality of care of cancer patients, as well as those at risk for cancer and those recovering from cancer treatment, by contributing to the advancement of evidence-based CAM practice and the sciences that support it as well as the availability of high-quality information for the health care community, researchers, and the general public.”
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    Well, who knew? The NCI is open to studying the efficacy of aromatherapy, acupressure, and massage in treating breast cancer, just as they’re interested in tamoxifen, mastectomy, and doxorubicin. I find that incredibly heartening. In fact, the NCI, through OCCAM, is more than “open” to non-traditional medicine; they’re helping to raise complementary and alternative therapies from that status to the mainstream via their Best Case Series (BCS) Program, whose goal is to “obtain and review sufficient information to determine if NCI-initiated research on a specific intervention is warranted.” BCS, “a process for evaluating data from CAM practitioners that involves the same rigorous scientific methods employed in evaluating treatment responses with conventional medicine… provides an independent review of medical records and medical imaging from patients treated with unconventional cancer therapies.”

    Short story: The NCI gives complementary and alternative treatments as much respect and attention as any new drug or surgical technique coming through conventional medical research channels. It’s all about the results. What heals you? What makes you feel better? Doesn’t matter if it’s a brilliant government-funded researcher with a theory on molecular-level treatment, or a Reiki practitioner with healing Reiki hands; all possible cancer treatments have the opportunity to be evaluated and verified by the NCI via OCCAM. And, this isn’t just the government giving easy lip service to all the yoga teachers and therapeutic touch practitioners out there: in 2007, Congress earmarked $121.5 million for CAM research.

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, another of the 27 institutes and centers that makes up the National Institutes of Health, fulfills much the same function as OCCAM, but on a broader level: it examines CAM in relation not only to cancer, but to other diseases as well. Its Web site includes useful information on selecting a CAM practitioner; insurance coverage of CAM; and results of clinical trials involving CAM, as well as the opportunity to subscribe to an e-newsletter. Hey, folks, these are your tax dollars at work–if you’re at all interested in complementary and alternative medicine, the NCCAM site is a great source of information.
Published On: September 28, 2007