Conventional cancer treatments, including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, are often effective in battling this frightening illness. Gentle natural therapies may be used in conjunction with traditional methods to help curb their troublesome side effects and boost their potency.

What is it?

There are more than a hundred types of cancer, all marked by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Most begin as solid tumours, from which cancer cells can spread (matastasise) to other parts of the body. Untreated, cancer cells can overpower normal cells and sap the body's vital nutrients, resulting in grave illness or death.

What causes it?

The cause of cancer is unknown, but such factors as smoking, excessive sun exposure, pollutants, stress and poor diet seem to play a role. Any of these may weaken the immune system, which is then unable to attack cancer cells effectively; or expose the body to free radicals – unstable oxygen molecules that can damage cells. Heredity also seems to be a key element in the development of many types of cancer.

What are the symptoms?

  • Unusual bleeding or discharge.
  • A change in either bowel or bladder habits.
  • Chronic indigestion or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Unexplained decreased appetite or weight loss.
  • A sore that doesn't heal.
  • Thickening or lump in the breast, testicles or elsewhere.
  • Persistent cough, hoarseness or sore throat.
  • A change in a wart or mole.
  • Unexplained fatigue.

Are there any natural therapies?

Debate about supplements in cancer treatment is intensive, but some supplements, taken daily over the long term, can be valuable additions to conventional cancer therapies.

Vitamin A, with the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids (especially beta-carotene and lycopene), selenium and coenzyme Q10, helps to protect cells from free radicals and may inhibit the growth or cancerous cells. These supplements may be particularly beneficial for people who have been treated with chemotherapy or radiation – procedures that damage healthy cells while they attack cancer cells. Amino acids may speed healing and slow tumour growth as well.

Rotating echinacea in three-week cycles with extracts of medicinal mushrooms and other herbs may stregthen overall immunity during cancer treatments. (Vitamin C also bolsters the immune system, helping it to fight off any cancer cells still in the body after treatment.) The Coriolus versicolor mushroom has shown particular promise against lung, stomach and colon cancer. Taking a liver detoxification formula (sometimes sold as a lipotroptic combination) can help to prevent the buildup of cancer-promoting toxins in the body. Ginseng and astragalus, taken together, also seem to boost immunity and reduce the side effects of treatment.

What else can I do?

  • Eat a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Join a support group: studies have shown this step can prolong your survival.
  • Try exercise, meditation, biofeedback, massage or imaging techiniques to help reduce stress, lessen anxiety and ease symptoms.

Did you know?

Half of all Australians and New Zealanders with cancer try alternative treatments, but many don't tell their doctors because they expect them to disapprove. Let your doctors know of any supplements you take so they can make informed treatment recommendations.