Alternatives Assist in Breast Cancer Treatment

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Yoga, acupuncture and herbs may work well with radiation and chemo

By Ashley Welch

After Dr. Allison Stern Rosen was diagnosed with breast cancer over 10 years ago, there were some constants she could count on in her life. Fatigue, muscle and bone pain and overall difficulty in moving plagued her on a daily basis.

Depressed by her physical ailments, Rosen turned to the one thing that still brought her great joy-music. One day she began dancing, swaying and rocking her hips gently.

"I was exhausted all the time from the chemo," she said, "but even though it hurt to walk, I found it exhilarating that I could move to the music without pain."

Rosen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst, looked into existing research and found studies suggesting exercise was an important part of the rehabilitation of breast cancer patients. However, there were no classes or exercise DVDs tailored to people with cancer.

Rosen decided to change that. She approached her friends, Jan Albert and exercise physiologist Martha Eddy, about creating a dance class specifically for cancer patients. That's when Moving On Aerobics was born.

Eddy designed the class based on the symptoms many cancer patients experience, including fatigue, pain and loss of range of motion.

"Only when you push your body will you strengthen it," Eddy said.

However, participants of the class are allowed to go at their own pace.

Today, Moving On Aerobics offers free classes to cancer patients at community centers and hospitals throughout the city, including the JCC on the Upper West Side.

Such exercise classes are part of the growing number of doctor-recommended complementary treatments for cancer patients-treatments in addition to existing methods like radiation and chemotherapy. As more research emerges proving the benefits of these supplemental treatments, they have gained a much wider acceptance from the medical field.

Dr. Alyson Moadel of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has been researching the effects of yoga on breast cancer patients since 2007.

"We've found that breast cancer patients participating in a 12-week yoga program show a significant increase in mood, spiritual well-being and overall quality of life," she said.

In addition, she said, other forms of exercise can "improve energy levels and decrease fatigue and stress in cancer patients before and after treatment."

Other, less traditional treatments are also being integrated into overall treatment plans for cancer patients.

Dr. Pamela Yee, integrative internist at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing affiliated with Beth Israel Medical Center, sees patients both before and after radiation and chemotherapy treatments and surgeries.

"Patients come to me before traditional treatments to find ways to reduce side effects, increase their immune system and do anything to strengthen their bodies to receive the treatment," Yee said.

After patients undergo the radiation or chemotherapy, Yee will also suggest ways they can rebuild their strength and remain healthy.

One of the methods she recommends is diet change.

"Though during treatment is not the time to make sweeping dietary changes, there are some alterations that can be made," she said.

Yee suggests patients try to avoid sugar, as studies suggest it may feed cancer. She also said introducing anti-cancer food like cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts, can be helpful. These vegetables contain compounds that are believed to help prevent many types of cancer, especially breast cancer.

Many cancer patients also find comfort in energetic techniques like acupuncture, the insertion and manipulation of needles in the body to relieve pain and treat other ailments. According to Yee, acupuncture has been proven to reduce some side effects of chemotherapy like nausea and vomiting. However, many of her patients say they benefit from the traditional Chinese practice because it helps balance their whole body.

Yee recommends different herbs or supplements based on the type of chemotherapy a patient has undergone, but she said some are beneficial for most conditions. For example, medicinal mushrooms have been proven to help boost immunity.

While supplements are sometimes difficult to recommend because of the lack of scientific research available, Yee said she does so by analyzing the studies and making suggestions based on the most prevalent available evidence.

Though Yee said conventional methods of treating cancer have certainly proven to be effective, complementary treatments such as these can only help the process.

"When you think of the treatment of cancer, you think about chemo and radiation essentially blasting everything away," she said. "It's sort of like a war tactic, bombing and hitting as much as you can. The reason I use other unconventional methods is to attack the cancer in other ways-using other methods that can potentially get a hold on the cancer.

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