CAM-Integrated Support for Cancer



     This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I have received questions about what types of CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) integrated supports for cancer.


     CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine) is becoming increasing popular in the support for cancer treatment in the past ten years.  More people are using to CAM particularly with the cancer treatments of chemotherapy and radiation therapy which can produce harsh results to the human body.  There are five CAM integrative support therapies that have interesting findings with the cancer treatment.  They are lymphatic massages techniques, Qi Gong, Astragalus herb, European Mistletoe and Iyengar Yoga.

     Lymphatic massages provide external pressure specifically to affect the movement of the lymph (Knaster, 1996). It is a very light massage and it does not penetrate to the levels of your muscles.  This is because almost half of the body 's lymph lies within the superficial layers below the skin (Knaster, 1996).  Numerous systematic reviews and clinical studies have suggested that at least for the short term, massage therapy for cancer patients may reduce pain, promote relaxation, and boost mood.


However, the National Cancer Institute urges massage therapists to take specific precautions with cancer patients and avoid massaging:

•    Open wounds, bruises, or areas with skin breakdown
•    Directly over the tumor site
•    Areas with a blood clot in a vein
•    Sensitive areas following radiation therapy (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016)

     Qi Gong is a biofield therapy that is intended to affect energy fields that purportedly surround and penetrate the human body.  Qigong is the art and science of using breathing, slow movements, visualization and meditation to cleanse, gather and circulate chi.  Daily practice of Qi Gong can activate the body's self-regulating systems responsible for balancing functioning of tissues, organs and glands (Knaster, 1996).  In a current randomized controlled trial, the  researchers from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center examined the efficacy of a qigong intervention on quality of life in women with breast cancer during and after treatment of radiotherapy. The results found that qigong, an ancient mind-body practice, reduces depressive symptoms and fatigue. Also, qigong may prevent a delayed symptom burden, or expedite the recovery process especially for women with elevated depressive symptoms at the start of radiotherapy (Cohen, et. atl, 2013).  There has not been a negative effect with Qi Gong with cancer.

      Astragalus herb one of the primary tonifiers of Chinese herbal medicine and used as an adjunctive therapy to chemo- and radiation therapy in cancer.  Astragalus injection supplemented with chemotherapy could inhibit the development of the tumor, decrease the toxic adverse effect of chemotherapy, elevate the immune function of the organism and improve the quality of life in patients (Duan, 2002). There is a not a clear amount of precise correct dosage of astragalus for adults (Ulbricht, 2010).  There is still a problem with Western Medicine using astragalus for treatment since it is a Chinese Medicine herb. Chinese Medicine has its own sophisticated repertoire of  ways for treatment with Chinese herbs that may be difficult for Western Medicine to achieve the positive treatment results.


     The Chinese way of researching the efficacy of the Chinese herbs is the yin and yang in order to preserve and restore a healthy function of the body.    Viscum album (European Mistletoe)  was effective for cancer survival, tumor response, quality of life, psychological distress, or any other favorable outcomes. However, two of the better-designed studies did suggest some benefit for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015).  Laboratory studies have found that mistletoe kills cancer cells and stimulates the immune system. The use of mistletoe to treat cancer has been studied in Europe in more than 30 clinical trials (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015).  Raw, unprocessed mistletoe is poisonous. Eating raw, unprocessed European mistletoe or American mistletoe can cause vomiting, seizures, a slowing of the heart rate, and even death. American mistletoe is unsafe for medicinal use.  In countries where commercial mistletoe is available by injection, such as Germany, those extracts are considered to be generally safe when used according to product directions and under the supervision of a health care provider (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2015).  

      Iyengar Yoga was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar, who is renowned for his rigorous and scientific approach to Yoga.  His approach emphasizes great precision in the poses (Knaster, 1996).  . Iyengar yoga is a traditional form of Hatha yoga and uses different poses and breathing techniques for various medical conditions. It pays strict attention to alignment and anatomy with the use of props. There was the study that compared the effects of  Iyengar yoga interventions on cancer-related fatigue in a small number of breast cancer survivors. The participants in the yoga group reported significant decreases in fatigue severity and increases in vigor from the start of the intervention to the 3-month follow-up.  These findings suggest that a specialized yoga intervention may help improve persistent fatigue symptoms in breast cancer survivors (Bower, J., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz,  P., Irwin, M., Olmstead, R. & Greendale, 2011, Dec. 16).   The amounts of studies that are available to examined the effects of yoga in cancer patients are only a small number. Some of these studies were not conducted with necessary rigor to draw meaningful conclusions (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 2016).



Bower, J., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz,  P., Irwin, M., Olmstead, R. & Greendale, G.  (2011, Dec. 16).  Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: A randomized controlled trial. Cancer.  doi: 10.1002/cncr.26702.

Cohen, L., Liao, Z., Wei, Q., Milbury, K., Larsen, L., Meng, Z., Bei, W., Zhang, Y., Thorton, B., Chen, J.., Guo, X., Lui, L., McQuade, J. & Kirschbaum, C. (2013). Qigong Improves Quality of Life in Women Undergoing Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer. Cancer, 119:1690–8. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27904,

Duan, P & Wang ZM. (Jul 2002), Clinical study on effect of Astragalus in efficacy enhancing and toxicity reducing of chemotherapy in patients of malignant tumor.  PubMed NCBI;22 (7):5157, 

Horneber M.A., Bueschel G., Huber R., Linde K. and Rostock M: Mistletoe therapy in oncology. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008; 2: CD003297
Knaster, M. (1996). Western Structure and Function. In Discovering the Body Wisdom (pp. 167-169, 331-333, 349). New York, NY: Bantam New Age Books.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2016, April 16) What the Science Says About the Effectiveness of Massage, Massage Therapy for Health Purposes, 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2016, May) Complementary and Integrative Approaches for Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects: What the Science Says, Mind and Body Approaches, 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (2015, July) European Mistletoe, Cancer Prevention and Treatment,
Ulbricht, C. (2010). Astragalus. In Natural Standard, Herb & Supplement Guide (pp. 76-79). Maryland Heights, Missouri: Mosby, Inc.,.

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I am Denine Rogers, MS, RDN, LD, FAND a integrative dietitian nutritionist and wellness coach. So excited that you are viewing my blog!

I am on a quest in learning how to live healthy in the areas of Integrative Medicine, Herbal Medicine, Aromatherapy  and Nutrition.


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