Fight against cancer: what can I do myself?

Many patients want to be active in the treatment of cancer themselves. What integrative oncology can achieve

Acupuncture, yoga, sport, medicinal plants and a balanced diet can be a useful addition to cancer therapy

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The shock of the diagnosis has not yet been processed, as the patients find themselves in the mill of conventional medicine: Countless examinations, drugs, chemotherapy, operations. Suddenly, the feeling of helplessness is no longer only evident in relation to the cancer, but also in relation to the system that is actually supposed to help. The desire to become active oneself drives many people to so-called alternative healing methods, which are intended to replace conventional medical procedures.

The range of offers is as wide as the healing promises. The providers keep silent about the fact that no studies prove the effect or refer to an allegedly rich wealth of experience.

Healing together

Integrative oncology takes a different approach. On the basis of scientific knowledge, she integrates recognized naturopathic methods, nutrition and exercise into classic cancer therapy. In an interview, Professor of Integrative Oncology Jutta Hübner explains why this approach is so important today.

Ms. Hübner, how is it that so many people turn away from conventional medicine and turn to alternative methods?

There is a massive communication problem in modern medicine. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that doctors and nurses have far too little time in everyday medical practice for meaningful discussions with patients. In the case of alternative forms of treatment, however, time and long discussions usually come first. In addition, our medical world is highly complex and therapies are usually difficult to understand. Applications of alternative medicine, on the other hand, are often very plausible from the layperson's point of view.

What is the dangerous thing about this development?

That methods that are neither based on scientific knowledge nor can provide evidence that they are useful make the claim that they can be used as an alternative to conventional medicine. This is charlatanism. In the case of serious illnesses this can be life-threatening.

You are a professor for integrative oncology. This means that you also use healing methods that go beyond pure conventional medicine.

It is important that we use these methods, firstly, as a supplement to classic cancer therapy and, secondly, do it on a scientifically sound basis. There is excellent data showing that certain naturopathic therapies, diet and exercise can improve tolerance to treatment and improve physical performance and quality of life for patients.

Integrative Oncology Options

Phytotherapy

There are no gentle, natural remedies that will fight a tumor directly. In order to kill cancer cells, you need powerful drugs that always have side effects. However, herbal medicine (phytotherapy) offers many means that help reduce the side effects of cancer therapy and facilitate treatment. There is good data for example for milk thistle, ginger, ginseng or green tea. However, patients should always clarify exactly which remedy is suitable for their individual situation. After all, herbal medicines - like all medicines - can lead to side effects and interactions.

acupuncture

Acupuncture cannot influence cancer itself, but it can make therapy easier. In patients receiving chemotherapy, use can reduce vomiting, a review by the Cochrane Collaboration summarizes the results of eleven studies. And according to a study in the journal Scientific Reports, acupuncture probably also helps against nausea during therapy. Acupuncture is also used to relieve pain, fatigue and joint discomfort. However, there is still no scientific proof that the method can really help.

Sports

Countless studies prove the positive effects of exercise. Not only has a preventive effect. The German Cancer Society even calls it "as important as a drug" for a cancer diagnosis. The effect on breast, colon and prostate cancer has been particularly well researched. A meta-analysis in the journal Annals of Oncology shows that patients who had breast or colon cancer and started exercising regularly (about 150 minutes a week) were able to significantly reduce their risk of death. A publication in the Journal of Clinical Oncology comes to a similar conclusion for prostate cancer patients. In addition, regular exercise can significantly improve the quality of life of cancer patients, strengthen self-confidence and counteract fatigue.

nutrition

A balanced diet is particularly important for cancer patients. That means: sufficient carbohydrates, protein and fat, as much fruit, vegetables and salad as possible. In addition to vitamins, you also get enough important secondary plant substances. Whole grain products should be preferred. Processed carbohydrates and sugars are less recommended, but not completely banned. The same applies to meat: you should be cautious and prefer poultry to beef or pork. But studies also show that a strict vegetarian diet is no better than one with meat and fish.

yoga

Yoga combines exercise and concentrative meditation - and can improve the quality of life of cancer patients, as a review study in the journal Cancer shows. Researchers evaluated 29 studies in which the subjects practiced yoga during or after the treatment. The result: For many of the participants, it was mainly chronic exhaustion that was reduced. In several studies, the patients also showed improved inflammation values, increased resistance to stress and stronger immune function.

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Why is this addition to traditional therapy so important?

Many cancer patients want to actively contribute to their healing themselves. I find the question: "What can I do myself?" a great deal. Then we can choose from a broad spectrum exactly what suits the respective patient, his current life situation and his therapy best.

What does this mean for nutrition?

It should be balanced: healthy carbohydrates from whole grain products, fruits, vegetables and salad as the main source of energy. Less animal fats, but more omega-3 fats from fish and vegetable oils such as rapeseed, nut or flaxseed oil. Vegans, for example, have to pay particular attention to the right proteins so that they do not suffer from deficiencies in the area of ​​essential amino acids.

What about dairy products?

Cheese and yogurt should only be omitted from certain therapies, if advised by the doctor, or as a patient in the transplant ward - because of the bacteria they contain.

And which sport do you advise your patients to take?

The most important thing is that the sick get enough exercise. You don't need a sophisticated sports program for this.A distinction is made between endurance, strength, agility and dexterity. I recommend a mix of all four, with endurance and strength being the main components. For example, we have been offering dance sport for our patients for four years. Other great ways to get moving are a brisk walk, cycling, romping around with your grandchildren in the playground or working in the garden. I would only avoid swimming pools: there is often a large spectrum of germs there that cannot be controlled.

However, people also often warn against gardening: Weakened patients could become infected with germs.

So-called high-dose patients with leukemia and lymphoma or those with very intensive chemotherapy should be careful. But I think that the oncologists are far too strict with the rest of the patients: I don't know of any study that says that gardening leads to an increased infection rate. One should be careful and if one injures oneself, clean, disinfect and observe the wound immediately. Anyone who is not digging up the vegetable garden, but plucking weeds or pulling the cherries from the tree, is certainly not taking any risks, but increases their quality of life enormously.

Keyword quality of life: One factor that has a strong negative impact on cancer patients is fatigue, severe tiredness and exhaustion. How can those affected help themselves?

Exercise helps here. But there are also remedies from herbal medicine: Ginger wakes you up and also helps against nausea and vomiting. Ginseng has also shown good results against fatigue in several studies. However, the preparations are quite expensive and are not paid for by health insurance. Patients with hormone-dependent breast cancer should not take ginseng - because of possible interactions. Ginger is also not suitable for every patient.

As a patient, how do I know which phytotherapeutic agent is suitable for me?

The treating oncologist should be the point of contact. But pharmacists can also help: they have a database that provides information on possible interactions. It is best to write down all the medicines and remedies that you take or want to take on a piece of paper and ask the pharmacist for a check. Because some herbal remedies can weaken the effect of drugs or intensify them - and thus also their side effects. In the worst case, intolerance to therapy can arise. That is why it is important that the oncologist knows what drugs the patient is taking. This is the only way he can act.

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