As a Naturopathic Doctor, my goal is to focus on promoting health rather than fighting disease. This principle could not be more true than in cancer care. Naturopathic doctors have a valuable role to play during a person’s journey through cancer, and it is important for patients with cancer to understand all of their options for their treatment.
I want to emphasize that Naturopathic Doctors have a role in adjunctive cancer care, meaning that there should be a collaborative effort between a patient’s oncologist and other members of their health team. Certain doctors are experts in certain types of medicine, and a naturopathic doctor is trained in optimizing patient health so that they can better withstand traditional oncology treatments and increase their quality of life during a physically and emotionally difficult time. After all, you want your oncologist to be a chemotherapy expert rather than a nutrition expert, and so it makes sense to have a variety of trained professionals working on your holistic care plan. In light of my mission to educate patients, I know there are many myths about naturopathic medicine, and it is my goal to dispel some of them related to cancer.
Myth #1 – Naturopathic Doctors are anti-chemotherapy/radiation/conventional oncology.
If a naturopathic doctor (ND) tells someone they should not undergo chemotherapy, this is an enormous problem. The ND’s role is to empower and support their patient whatever treatment option they choose and work with them throughout this journey. If anyone ever pressures a patient to partake in or withdraw from a particular therapy, this is not okay. Since cancer and the information provided by the oncology team can often be overwhelming, the ND can help educate patients, but it is not their job to influence these very personal decisions.
Myth #2 – If a patient is working with a conventional oncologist, they cannot work with an ND.
There is a wide variety of treatments that NDs provide that are compatible with conventional oncology. A lot of misunderstandings drive some health care providers to dismiss naturopathic care, and many oncologists know very little about naturopathic medicine, so they may not be supportive of a patient seeking adjunctive cancer care from and ND. Unfortunately, patients need to advocate for themselves in these situations because there is always a place for naturopathic care in their treatment plan unless the patient is not looking for it.
Myth #3 – Naturopathic medicine is unscientific and has no research and therefore has no place in oncology.
This could not be further from the truth! In fact, most of the research on natural therapies exist in adjunctive cancer care. Research studies may emerge from different areas of the world where models of care are more integrative. From curcumin to high dose vitamin C, fish oil, green tea, and more, there can be large groups of human trials showing effectiveness of various natural remedies on different types of cancer, on cancer-therapy side effects, on prevention, and in palliative care.
Myth #4 – Natural supplements can counteract conventional therapies.
This myth can actually be true, but it emphasizes the need to find a knowledgeable licensed Naturopathic Doctor who is familiar with adjunctive cancer care. This is not a reason, however, to dismiss natural remedies as a whole, as some providers may do. In fact, some remedies can not only mitigate side effects of radiation and chemotherapy and enhance surgical recovery, but can also make conventional options more effective while minimizing harm.
Myth #5 – It’s hard to tell if natural care is working.
Many simple blood tests can actually reveal some prognostic factors related to cancer progression, recovery and remission. Knowing your blood coagulation tendencies and iron stores throughout treatment and in recovery, for example, can help track progress. By no means should these tests be used in place of conventional screening and biopsies, but they can also provide a more subtle look at how the patient’s overall health status can contribute to their recovery or risk of relapse. In short, a well-trained naturopathic doctor can read blood tests and help you create a targeted plan to help maximize your recovery and minimize risk of relapse.
Naturopathic doctors are trained in the science of optimizing health rather than waging war on disease. It is important to be well-informed of the options available to cancer patients regarding their health. There are a plethora of resources and I know that the information overload can be overwhelming for someone with a new cancer diagnosis, and a cancer-savvy Naturopathic Doctor can help support their patients as they navigate the many decisions related to their oncology care. Accurate information is the first step to empowering patients to make the best decisions for their health, which is why I am an educator at heart and like to offer complimentary meet-and-greets with my patients to see if we’d be a good fit to work together on their health. If you have a cancer diagnosis, you have nothing to lose by chatting with a Naturopathic Doctor.
Explore all the options, and know that it is possible to be healthy with cancer.