Being confronted with a diagnosis of skin cancer is scary. Friends, relatives and even strangers may offer you advice on all different types of treatments, telling you stories of someone they know who "cured" their cancer with vitamins, supplements or some other alternative treatment-all without suffering from any of the side effects common with cancer medications. As you are wondering what to do, these claims sound promising and intriguing. But before you decide whether to forego the traditional medical care, do your research about alternative treatments.
The Difference Between Alternative and Complementary Treatments
While the terms alternative and complementary are sometimes used interchangeably, there is a difference. A complementary treatment is one that is used alongside traditional medical treatment. (Stay tuned for next week's post when we talk about different complementary treatments.) Alternative treatments are those that replace traditional treatment methods.
Examples of Alternative Treatments
As with any illness or disorder, an internet search provides an array of natural or alternative treatments. For skin cancer, some of the alternative treatments include:
- Cymilium (an over-the counter insect bite remedy)
- Coconut oil
- Black Salve
- Green Tea
- Herbal supplements
Why Alternative Treatments?
Alternative treatments are an attractive choice for many because they are touted as being "natural" or having no (or little) side effects. When we hear the word "natural" we automatically associate it with safety. Because many alternative treatments are made from natural ingredients, we believe they are safe to take and we don't need to discuss their use with our doctor. This is not necessarily true. Natural ingredients can still cause harmful side effects or interfere with other medications. In some cases, herbal supplements that were once readily available have been banned because of possible deaths related to their use. There are some which may interfere with the effectiveness of other medications you are taking, for your skin cancer or for a different condition.
A number of alternative treatments have been in use for thousands of years or, if not the exact treatment, then the current treatment has been derived from a folk remedy that has been used for generations. But having been around for a long time doesn't necessarily mean effective. Sometimes, the placebo effect comes in to play. People believe that a treatment is going to work, going to make them feel better and because of that, at least for the short-term, they do. But in the long-term, the treatment may not work any better than doing nothing at all.
Precautions You Should Take Before Using Alternative Treatments
Alternative treatments are not necessarily bad for you. There are some that won't cause any harm, even though they may not help. There are some that can help reduce side effects of traditional medications. But before trying any alternative medications, there are precautions you should take:
Always talk to your doctor first. Make sure the new treatment you are trying won't interfere with other medication or doesn't have the potential to create new medical problems. Your doctor should be aware of anything you are taking: vitamins, supplements and over-the-counter medications.
Do your homework. Before trying an alternative medication, do some research. Find out what other people are saying. Look into the company producing the treatment: are they reputable? Are there complaints or reviews online you can read? Contact the company and ask about scientific research to back up their claims of effectiveness.
Look for unrealistic claims. While we all want to believe that we can instantly be cured from skin cancer, or any other disease, this is normally not the case. Many alternative treatments claim "cures" and use customer testimonials to back up these claims. These types of advertisements don't replace scientific studies or research and shouldn't be taken as "truth."
Beware of companies or practitioners who suggest you stop traditional treatments or not tell your doctor. If, in order to receive a treatment, you are told that you should keep it a secret from your doctor or stop receiving the treatments you are currently using, it should raise a "red flag."
Each person using alternative treatments does so for their own personal reasons and for some, these types of treatment may fit more closely into their personal, cultural or religious beliefs. While it is a personal decision, it is vitally important to take the time to do your research and talk with your doctor before beginning any alternative treatments.
"Complementary & Alternative Medicine for Skin Cancer," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, Cancer Treatment Center of America
"Skin Cancer," Reviewed 2012, Jan 5, Reviewed by Steven R. Ehrlich, University of Maryland Medical Center