Complementary Medicine Techniques Improve Quality of Life in Chinese Cancer Patients

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Complementary medicine is the term used to describe therapeutic techniques that are not part of conventional medicine (also called "regular," "standard," or "mainstream" medicine). Many complementary medicine techniques, such as acupuncture and tai chi, come from traditional Chinese medicine. Complementary therapies are used as a "complement" or addition to conventional medicine. Because complementary medicine can be combined or integrated with conventional medical treatment, it is also called "integrative medicine."

Complementary medicine includes techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, support groups, and yoga. Sometimes called holistic medicine, complementary medicine typically addresses how disease affects the whole person: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

A study has found that nine complementary medicine techniques improve quality of life in Chinese cancer patients.

The study was published in the Nov. 17, 2015 issue of Oncotarget. Read “Practice of traditional Chinese medicine for psycho-behavioral intervention improves quality of life in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis.”

This study was a meta-analysis -- a study that combines and analyzes the results of a number of earlier studies. In this case, the results of 6,806 Chinese people diagnosed with cancer in 67 studies done between 2000 and 2013 on complementary medicine were analyzed. The complementary medicine techniques analyzed were:

  • acupuncture
  • Chinese massage
  • traditional Chinese medicine dietary supplements
  • relaxation training
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • music therapy
  • guided imagery
  • psychotherapy
  • hypnosis

Acupuncture, Chinese massage, and Chinese medicine dietary supplements are considered traditional Chinese medicine techniques.

Seventeen of the studies included people diagnosed with breast cancer.

The researchers found that the complementary medicine techniques improved the quality of life of Chinese cancer patients, including:

  • relieving pain
  • easing depression
  • improving sleep quality
  • easing fatigue
  • calming diarrhea
  • improving mood

"The meta-analysis confirmed that traditional Chinese medicine enhanced global quality of life for Chinese cancer patients," said Dr. Keith Kelley, University of Illinois animal sciences and pathology professor emeritus and an author of the study. "Traditional Chinese medicine has been practiced for 2,500 years in China, but what is the scientific evidence that it improves quality of life in cancer patients? This paper establishes that it does. Unfortunately, we were not able to determine what specific components of traditional Chinese medicine are the most effective."

The results of the study support other research showing that complementary medicine techniques can ease some symptoms associated with breast cancer and certain treatment side effects.

If you would like to add complementary medicine to your treatment plan, there are several points you may want to consider:

  • Because research on complementary medicine is so new, you have to be an informed consumer. Find out if any studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of the technique in which you are interested.
  • Review the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) guidelines on complementary therapies. Released in November 2014, the SIO guidelines were created by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center with colleagues at MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Michigan, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and other institutions in the United States and Canada. The researchers analyzed more than 200 studies done between 1990 and 2013 on more than 80 complementary therapies and made recommendations on therapies that are effective and safe for people diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Talk to your doctor before you make any decisions about adding complementary therapies to your treatment plan. If you're already using complementary therapies, tell your doctor so they can be noted in your treatment plan.
  • If you use a complementary technique provided by a practitioner, such as massage, choose the practitioner with care. Check with your insurance company to see if the services are covered.

In the Complementary & Holistic Medicine pages, you can learn about 16 therapies, including acupuncture, guided imagery, and music therapy. You can read about:

  • what to expect
  • how to find a qualified practitioner
  • important things to consider before trying a technique
  • how to talk to your doctor about complementary medicine

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