- Question from Julie: Are there any scientific studies that show benefits from the use of essential oils, especially Frankincense, in relation to breast cancer?
- Answers - Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. Patients have found that applying topical oils can be helpful. In the absence of evidence, since there isn't any medical evidence, it appears that the benefit is related to relaxation and honoring the body, which has been so traumatized, as we said before.
- Larry Lachman A general statement — smell and hearing are the older senses of humans and their brains, and you see that in hospice settings. A lot of times, when people get ill at ease, it can be related to smells. We talked about the anticipatory reaction to smells in chemo, so it doesn't surprise me that smells that a person finds pleasant and soothing could work in the opposite direction.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. That's a good point. I'd imagine that further down the road in someone's journey of healing, a smell they once enjoyed might take on a negative sense, since it's associated with their treatment.
- Dan Benor In Volume 2 of my book on Healing Research, I show that aromatherapy has significant positive effects in reducing pain, reducing anxieties and emotional distress, reducing depression, and enhancing immune cell activity. Sleep can be a problem when people are distressed, and aromatherapy has a calming and sedative effect. It can also have an analgesic, or pain-reducing, effect.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. I'd like to clarify what I said earlier. When I said "lack of evidence," I was referring to the therapeutic effect of application to the skin. Aromatherapy is a different aspect in the use of oils.
From the studies I've seen and surveys of people with cancer, the complementary therapies most requested by people with cancer are aromatherapy, acupuncture, Bach Flower Remedies, herbs, massage, meditation/visualization, and yoga. If you go to the NIH site, they break down what we're talking about into five general categories of: 1) alternative medical systems, like the Indian Ayurvedic; 2) the biologically based therapies like vitamins and nutrition; 3) the Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) modalities like energy therapies, 4) the manipulative body therapies like massage. And the fifth category, which I'm most familiar with, is the mind/body medicine techniques like deep breathing, visualization, etc.
It's interesting for those psychologists in the audience that in June 2003 in a journal called Professional Psychology, there was an article about CAM and challenges for psychologists. They did a survey of psychologists and out of 1000, only 202 answered, but the majority was aware of CAM therapies and had seen anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of these therapies. But there was a split as to what the state licensing boards for psychologists had to say whether psychotherapists are allowed to refer out to CAM practitioners. Half said that since these other modalities were regulated under a different profession, it was OK to refer out because that profession had their own licensing and ethical guidelines. Half were concerned about being sanctioned by the state body. So there needs to be room for improvement regarding education and ethical guidelines. Overriding are (1) informed consent, and (2) doing no harm to your client.
With my clients, I will definitely encourage them to learn as much as possible about whatever therapy they're considering — allopathic (conventional) or naturopathic (holistic) — to help patients be active in their own care. And you should get second and third opinions with both types of practitioners.
- Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. I would like to know if you've noticed a change in the allopathic medical community that respects the non-western aspects of medicine. I have patients who say, "It's in my head, so it's not real."
- Dan Benor I like your observation. I'm a member of the American Holistic Medical Association, where doctors who are now opening to these ideas are coming together to support each other, to share our knowledge and learn more about how to help the whole person in body, emotions, mind, relationships with other people, environment, and spirit.
I second that. In fact, in ten minutes today on the Web site of nih.gov and the American Cancer Society site, cancer.org, you read the following: They quote David Rosenthal, M.D., professor of Medicine at Harvard, and he's saying it's important for physicians to listen and not judge their patients so patients feel comfortable sharing ideas about CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine). And this is the American Cancer Society Web site! 20 years ago you wouldn't have seen this. So this is a mainstream doctor at Harvard talking about the very thing that Dr. Griggs just brought up. And also today, on the NIH website, it said more than 90% of Americans believe in God. 77% of patients in one survey wanted their doctors to take their spiritual concerns into consideration.
This reminds me of a workshop I attended at UCI medical school, where they their med students were taught — in addition to taking history and blood tests and CAT scans — to take spiritual histories. FICA was the acronym, standing for Faith Importance, Community, and Active. Basically, the physician in training was being taught to first assess whether the person had an active faith, or how they were brought up, how important it currently was to that person, whether they were connected with C, a community of like-minded spiritual people, and A, how they wanted these concerns to affect their treatment. So for the most part, it's truly been a revolution in that allopathic Western medicine is more open. It's not so much with orthopedics and heart or brain surgeons, but more with oncologists and immunologists.
- Dan Benor Dr. Lachman has been very quiet and modest here in not mentioning his book, Parallel Journeys, which gives an excellent introduction to the ways these therapies can be helpful, from his own experience.
I'm taking my psychologist hat off and putting my cancer survivor hat on. When I was diagnosed with Stage 2B cancer of the prostate, I went in with two preconceived ideas. One was that the traditional allopathic Western physician was going to be dictatorial and patronizing and authoritarian, and the holistic complementary healers would be supportive and caring and collaborative. What happened was the opposite, which floored me. My urologist, internist, and surgeon listened, considered me as an equal member of the treatment team, showed me what to expect, and provided adequate post-op pain management. My first phone call to a CAM practitioner was with a 23-year-old Caucasian female, not married, who professed to practicing polarity therapy and therapeutic touch. The first thing out of her mouth was, "Why did you have to bring the cancer on yourself?" The second was, "What anger or resentment did you not express that you had to manufacture a tumor?"
Now here I am, already depressed, weak from surgery, trying to get a fighting spirit up and get my immune system going, and here's someone blaming me like blaming a rape victim, for bringing on my cancer. After I clarified that's what she'd said, I used a few expletives and hung up on her. So this brings up a central point: we are connected, mind, body, and spirit. Disease is the physical part of cancer, but illness is the subjective or psycho-social part. We may or may not be able to influence the disease, but we can definitely impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about the disease. That's different from blaming someone for bringing on his or her illness. That's why when traditional medicine folks yell, "Quack! Snake Oil" at these fringe alternative therapists, it's taking the mind/body connection and distorting the science to blame people for something they don't really have control over.
Bernie Siegel had to backtrack from his original statements, because a lot of what he was saying was on the edge of blaming people. From my perspective, five things contribute to getting cancer. (1) Genetics. How can you blame people for their parents? Come on! (2) Environment. 30 years ago, we didn't know that using baby oil on the beach and roasting ourselves like lobsters would come back to hurt us. And when I was working as a student in a library, who knew that was asbestos falling on me? Pesticides in food, etc. Who knew? (3) Diet. When President Clinton was growing up, they didn't know about diet as we do now. (4) Behavior. Dr. Griggs can correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, the only thing proven to have cause and effect hands down is cigarette smoking and not using sun block protection in skin cancer. Finally, (5) Random chance. Every time you show me someone who smoked who did get lung cancer, I can show you someone who got small cell lung cancer who never touched a cigarette, and the 90-year-old guy smoking like a chimney who never got cancer. So you've got all these random chances.
- Dan Benor Adding and contrasting to what Dr. Lachman said, my mental picture is of all of those five factors where you put them in one side of a balance, and on the other side in your life you put the energy you have to deal with those factors. You have a picture of how people are challenged in their lives and how they deal with stress. Being a psychiatrist and working with people with psycho-neuro-immunology, PNI for short, I find there are people who can markedly influence their experience of their illness, and some who can apparently shift the course of their illness by shifting what's in the pan on one side or the other. And that's mostly on the side of stress and how they relate to it, because as Dr. Lachman pointed out, there's not much you can do with the other side.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Complementary and Holistic Techniques Part 2 featured Dan Benor, M.D., Larry Lachman, Psy.D., and moderator Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H. answering your questions about the various complementary and holistic treatments that may benefit those with breast cancer.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in October 2004.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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