Cancers affecting the digestive system are some of the most common types of cancer in modern medicine. These include elements of the gastrointestinal tract such as esophageal, stomach, and colon cancers. Accessory organs to digestion such as the liver, gallbladder, pancreas are potentially at risk as well. Many of these digestion-related organs are prone to inflammation and various types of metastases and carcinomas which lead to cancer (Huether, 2016).
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Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are therapies and treatments used outside of traditional medical care. Complementary therapies are implemented consecutively with standard treatments, possibly to manage side effects. Meanwhile, alternative medicine is commonly introduced instead of standard treatments, fully replacing it due to a patient’s personal beliefs. Integrative medicine seeks to combine medical care of traditional and CAM approaches in a safe manner. CAM therapies have become popular in the treatment of cancers.
However, very little research is available, and they are rarely regulated, leading to safety and ethical concerns (National Cancer Institute, 2015). It should be noted that all CAM therapies described in this report and subsequent research studies to back them up were conducted in combination with traditional treatments as implementing these as full alternatives to standard care is a very rare occurrence and contrary to medical science.
Acupuncture is a popular complementary therapy, commonly used for the management of side effects of chemotherapy. Zhou et al. (2017) reviewed the use of acupuncture in patients with gastric cancer undergoing treatments with chemotherapeutic drugs. Gastric cancer is a GI malignancy, responsible for being the fifth most diagnosed cancer worldwide. Most gastric cancer patients are unable to qualify for surgery and can only receive nonsurgical interventions such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and gene-targeted therapy that has a wide range of side effects such as severe nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain which worsen the quality of life.
Acupuncture has been traditionally used in Eastern medicine for the alleviation of pain and neural conditions, improving organ function and blood flow. The procedure consists of inserting thin needles into the skin, commonly alongside mental aspects of meditation. The study confirmed some relief of symptoms in patients undergoing acupuncture in comparison to the control group and can be a safe complementary therapy for cancer patients. Although there is the little scientific basis for acupuncture, the therapy is safe and effective, with few adverse events and the ability to potentially reduce hospitalization rates among gastric cancer patients (Zhou et al., 2017).
Pancreatic cancer is an extremely common cancer in the United States, being the second most diagnosed and the fourth leading cause of death. Pancreatic cancer patients often experience severe issues with malnutrition and various digestive system side effects such as abdominal pain, nausea, anorexia, and diarrhea which leads to drastic weight loss. Nutritional therapy is useful in pancreatic cancer patients by assessing the adequate amount of nutrition, protein, and energy necessary to minimize unhealthy weight. Nutritional interventions in the form of diet and supplements are then implemented under the monitoring of a clinical dietician.
A study by Vashi, Popiel, Lammersfeld, and Gupta (2015) found nutritional therapy helped up to 70% of patients to either maintain or improve nutritional status during cancer treatment, which significantly reduced the risk of mortality.
Traditional Eastern herbal medicine has become a popular CAM therapy for patients with advanced GI cancers, particularly pancreatic cancer. Herbal therapy is considered to be effective and less toxic due to the natural origins of the plants. A traditional Chinese herb formulation HQT has been in use for centuries to treat gastrointestinal distress. The therapy utilizes roots of Baikal skullcap, licorice, peony, and the fruit jujube.
Each herb has a unique pharmacological profile that has antiviral or anticancer characteristics, liver protection, or hematological and immunological modulation along with improving appetite and digestion (Yue, Gao, Zou, Yu, & Zheng, 2017). Patients significant improvements through the use of herbal medicine and natural products and the therapy offers potential as an adjunctive approach due to its benefits in improving immune and GI function, lessening adverse effects of chemotherapy, and slowing tumor progression.
Huether, S. E. (2016). Understanding pathophysiology (6th ed.). Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elvesier.
National Cancer Institute. (2015). Complementary and alternative medicine. Web.
Vashi, P., Popiel, B., Lammersfeld, C., & Gupta, D. (2015). Outcomes of systematic nutritional assessment and medical nutrition therapy in pancreatic cancer. Pancreas, 44(5), 750–755. Web.
Yue, Q., Gao, G., Zou, G., Yu, H., & Zheng, X. (2017). Natural products as an adjunctive treatment for pancreatic cancer: Recent trends and advancements. BioMed Research International, 1–13. Web.
Zhou, J., Fang, L., Wu, W. Y., He, F., Zhang, X. L., Zhou, X., & Xiong, Z. J. (2017). The effect of acupuncture on chemotherapy-associated gastrointestinal symptoms in gastric cancer. Current Oncology, 24(1), e1-e5. Web.