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When it comes to beating cancer, would you put your trust in chemotherapy or acupuncture? Radiation or enzyme therapy? Surgery or herbal supplements? A new survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology shows nearly 40 percent of respondents think alternative therapies alone can cure cancer. But a Moffitt expert suggests it’s not an “either-or” choice.

The second annual National Cancer Opinion Survey polled more than 4,800 Americans – including 1,000 cancer patients or survivors – about a wide variety of cancer-related topics. Among the results: 39 percent believe cancer can be cured solely through alternative therapies such as enzyme and oxygen therapy, diet, vitamins, nutritional supplements, acupuncture, massage, minerals and more. Yet a 2017 study that compared outcomes for patients with common cancers showed much higher death rates for patients who chose to use only alternative medicine versus patients who received standard treatments like surgery, radiation or chemo.

Standard cancer treatments have gone through rigorous testing to prove they are safe and effective for patients. But alternative therapies are not required to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration before use. Most have not been subjected to testing in clinical trials.

Dr. Lora Thompson, PhD, clinical psychologist, director of Integrative Medicine Service at Moffitt Cancer Center.

Dr. Lora Thompson, clinical health psychologist and director of Moffitt’s Integrative Medicine Service, says there simply is not enough scientific evidence at this time to suggest alternative therapies alone can cure cancer. “While this might change with further research, current findings suggest alternative therapies are best used together with standard evidence-based treatments to help manage symptoms related to cancer and its treatment,” said Dr. Thompson.

Patients should choose alternative therapies which are considered safe and have some scientific evidence to support their use, said Thompson.  “When safe, evidence-based alternative therapies are used together with conventional treatments like chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy to treat the whole person - not just the cancer, we call this Integrative Medicine.   At Moffitt, our Integrative Medicine Service offers acupuncture, yoga, meditation and massage therapies to improve our patients’ quality of life throughout treatment and survivorship.   Patients are advised to check with their oncology provider before use of Integrative Medicine services.”

Moffitt also provides counseling related to dietary supplement use through its Nutrition Therapy Department. Spiritual counseling is addressed through Moffitt’s Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care Program. And its Arts in Medicine program provides opportunities for patients to explore the therapeutic benefits of visual arts and music.

Since 1998, the National Institutes of Health has included a center devoted to researching complementary and integrative health approaches called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The NCCIH offers a wealth of information specifically focused on cancer online called Cancer: In Depth. There is even a work book to help cancer patients and their health care providers talk about and keep track of any complementary approaches that patients may choose to use. The work book is free to download through the NCCIH website.