Complementary & Alternative Medicine Clinical Trials Influence Breast Cancer Care
Is low-level laser therapy an effective lymphedema treatment? Can acupressure reduce cancer related fatigue? Might green tea reduce breast cancer risk? These are among the more than 50 research questions now being studied in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) breast cancer trials throughout the United States.
But it wasn't always this way. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, most doctors, oncologists included, paid little attention to what were then thought of as "unconventional" therapies. But as public interest grew in alternative treatments such as vitamins and supplements, traditional Chinese medicine treatments like acupuncture, and mind-body therapies like yoga and progressive muscle relaxation, the mainstream medical field began to take notice.
The real wake-up call came in January 1993, when a research group from Beth Israel Medical Center in Boston published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that a third of the roughly 1500 adults surveyed reported using at least one "unconventional" therapy in the past year, and that a third of these adults saw "unconventional" providers. With each visit costing about $30.00, this suggested that Americans were currently spending about $13.7 billion a year on these treatments.
Q & A with Ann Fonfa
Ann Fonfa is the founder and president of The Annie Appleseed Project, which provides evidence-based information for cancer patients about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The organization's first-ever west coast conference will take place September 14-15 at The Event Center at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.
Ann became interested in complementary and alternative therapies after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 at age 44. Ann recently spoke with BCT about her efforts to draw attention to and increase evidence-based research on CAM.
Q: Why is it important to have evidence-based CAM research?
A: One reason is that doctors won't be convinced unless they see level 1 evidence that comes from a randomized trial. There are more studies being done, but some doctors still consider some of the outcomes not acceptable because there is no level 1 evidence.
Q: Would you encourage someone to get involved in a CAM clinical trial?
A. Yes, and we try to list them on our website. I think the most important thing is that everyone make informed decisions about their treatment. ... I also think integrative medicine (which combines mainstream treatments with CAM) should be offered to everyone.
Q: What do you expect will be some of the highlights of the conference?
A: Michael Lerner, the co-founder of Commonweal will be there, along with Donald Abrams, the director of clinical programs at the University of California San Francisco Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. We will have a patient panel, because the patient voice is so important as well as sessions on Qigong, pilates, and yogic breathing.
We have scholarships available for local cancer patients. The information is available on the Annie Appleseed website.