Health

Alternative treatments

Your guide to the most popular complementary therapies

You may have heard about a variety of alternative and complementary treatments available to women with breast cancer. But are they are helpful? The info below about the most common alternative therapies comes mainly from the Canadian Medical Association. If you decide to try one of these options, you must first discuss your decision with your medical team, since these therapies may interfere with other treatments. For example, vitamin E supplements may reduce the effectiveness of the cancer drug tamoxifen.

Common alternative therapies

Essiac: An herbal mixture of burdock root, Indian rhubarb (or turkey rhubarb), sheep sorrel and slippery elm. The blend is named for a nurse working in Bracebridge, Ont., who supposedly got the recipe for it from an Ojibwa healer in the 1920s and treated hundreds of cancer patients with it. It is sold as an herbal tea in health-food stores under the brand names Essiac and Flor-Essence. Preliminary studies show little effectiveness against cancer. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Green tea: Unfermented, heated and dried leaves of the tea shrub Camellia sinensis. Green tea has been studied in the prevention of cancer and some preliminary trials on animals show it has some tumour-reducing properties. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Iscador: The extract of a European species of mistletoe (Viscum album), which is injected subcutaneously (under the skin). It has been used and studied in specialized clinics in Europe for at least 70 years. Evidence that it may inhibit cell growth and boost the immune system is weak and inconclusive. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Hydrazine sulfate: A common chemical developed as a cancer therapy by an American research oncologist, taken as a pill or injection. Its capacity to stabilize tumour growth, cause regression and improve survival remains uncertain. It may also enhance chemotherapy effectiveness. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Vitamins A, C and E: Consuming these vitamins may help in the management of cancer and may provide healthy nutrients in the fight against it, but no studies specifically conclude that supplements prevent or effectively treat cancer. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

714-X: An injection of a compound made from camphor, nitrogen, ammonium salts, sodium chloride and ethanol. It was created in Canada by scientist and researcher Gaston Naessens. Evidence of the compound’s effectiveness in treating cancer is limited. For more information, read this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.