Written By: Dr. Adam McLeod, ND
Recently I had a patient who I have been working with for several years who has been using naturopathic medicine in conjunction with chemotherapy from the very beginning of her cancer treatment. She has breezed through multiple rounds of chemotherapy with minimal side effects and her oncologist has been very impressed with the results as she has far out lived expectations. The treatment notes from the cancer agency repeatedly discussed how well she was responding exceptionally well to treatment. Her care was eventually transferred to a different oncologist who found out that she was seeing a naturopathic doctor. This new doctor literally spent the entire appointment scaring the patient about how all of the natural therapies that she was on would interfere with treatment.
The patient became so fearful after this discussion that she met with me in a panic, concerned that she had been interfering with the conventional treatments all this time. I had to remind the patient about several important items. When reminded of her initial prognosis it became clear that she was doing much better than initially expected. She had also been doing these therapies literally the entire time and not only did she feel great, the therapies were working by every objective measure available. More importantly, her oncologist was unable to provide any actual evidence for these apparent interactions that concerned him so much. Upon further discussion with the patient it became clear that she never discussed the specific supplements that she was on or the dosing. This was a scare tactic that was not based on actual evidence because he was not even aware of what she was on.
As bizarre as this situation sounds I have actually had this happen many times in my practice. It reminds me of the old saying, “Don’t fix what ain’t broken”. There is no rational reason why a patient should change their plan when they were responding so well. When working with cancer the general rule is that if things are working well and going in the right direction, then leave things the way they are. If there are indications that the cancer is continuing to progress, then modify the treatment plan accordingly. This simple logic applies to both conventional cancer and integrative cancer treatments.
I regularly encounter situations in my practice where patients are using supplements that I would not consider useful or helpful in the context of their cancer. If the supplement is safe and the disease is responding well to the current treatment plan then there is simply no reason to change that component of the plan, even if I do not understand how it is helping. Of course if the disease is progressing then something needs to be changed. It is unethical to scare patients away from a therapy that is helping them just because you do not understand how it works. If there is a genuine concern then you should be able to provide evidence for that concern. Believe me when there is a genuine negative interaction with a natural supplement, the medical community is quick to document it and point it out. It simply makes no sense to discourage the patient from using a therapy that is helping them unless you have a legitimate reason to do so.
Conventional cancer care is often strict with their protocols because there are several serious interactions between natural products and chemotherapy. However, a naturopathic doctor who focuses in integrative cancer care is familiar with these interactions and will be able to develop a safe treatment plan that can be used in conjunction with conventional cancer therapies. The notion that all natural therapies should be avoided and that no evidence exists for their use is completely inaccurate. Many of these therapies have dozens of double blind clinical trials demonstrating benefit and depending on where you are in the world their use in combination with chemotherapy is the standard of care. There are now many major mainstream cancer clinics in the US who have naturopathic doctors on staff to develop integrative plans together with medical oncologists.
It is possible to develop a safe integrative cancer treatment plan but you need professional guidance. Do not consult Dr. Google for information, this can provide you with misleading and inaccurate information. A licensed naturopathic doctor who focuses in cancer treatments will be able to provide you with evidence based medicine and can work collaboratively with your medical oncology team.
Dr. Adam McLeod is a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), BSc. (Hon) Molecular biology, Motivational Speaker and International Best Selling Author. He currently practices at his clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia where he focuses on integrative oncology. http://www.yaletownnaturopathic.com