Reducing Side Effects of Cancer Treatments
Going through chemotherapy and radiation can come with many unwanted side effects. While some of these can be managed with medications, there are a number of ways to treat these troublesome symptoms naturally. A naturopathic doctor with a focus in cancer care can help you address these concerns so you can move through your treatment more comfortably.
Nausea and Digestive Upset
Often one of the first symptoms to creep up, nausea can be accompanied by vomiting and stomach upset. Over 70% of people going through chemotherapy will experience nausea. I often recommend drinking a ginger tea, but a strong extract of ginger in capsule form may be needed to fully address severe nausea. A study of 576 patients found ginger at a dose of 0.5-1 grams to be more effective than anti-emetic medication alone.1 Acupuncture can be extremely helpful here as well. One point in particular, Pericardium 6, can be used as an acupressure point as needed throughout the day. Some people also experience mouth sores during treatment, which can be addressed with a rinse of glutamine powder to help heal tissue and prevent future sores.2
Many people lose weight during cancer treatment. It is important to identify the cause of the weight loss – sometimes it is due to appetite loss or taste changes, and sometimes it is muscle wasting. I first address any nausea that can contribute to decreased food intake. Some people experience metallic or bitter tastes in the mouth, and a rinse with a zinc solution before eating can decrease this symptom, as can supplementation with zinc sulfate.3 If muscle wasting is a concern, we need to assess the diet to look at overall calorie intake. I often use smoothies that are full of good fats and protein to give the body what it needs. And speaking of good fats, for some patients, a high dose fish oil is one of the best things to decrease or prevent cachexia – the muscle wasting seen in some cancer patients.4
Aches and pains can be brought on by chemotherapy or cancer itself. Many people get referred pain – pain that occurs in areas other than a tumor, even though it is caused by the tumor. Regular acupuncture is wonderful for decreasing pain, and often gives immediate relief. Curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, is a potent anti-inflammatory that can help decrease pain. It also has cancer-fighting properties itself, and is a supplement that I will recommend for specific types of cancer.
Feeling tired, run down, or mentally foggy is very common when going through treatment. If possible, regular physical activity like brisk walking or yoga can keep energy levels up. A study of women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer found that low-to-moderate intensity exercise for about 30 minutes decreased fatigue symptoms by 14-35%, with those experiencing the worst fatigue benefiting the most.5 In cases of severe fatigue, I like to use ashwagandha, an East Indian herb, which is quite good at boosting feelings of well-being and energy.
This is the painful, tingling, or numb sensation that can occur in the hands and feet due to some chemotherapy drugs. Studies looking at patients receiving taxane chemotherapies have shown that high-dose melatonin can be effective at preventing neuropathy when taken alongside treatment.6 Weekly acupuncture to the affected areas can improve symptoms as well by increasing circulation and healing.
Radiation can lead to skin changes including thickening, burning, or peeling. A saline soak is often recommended for these patients. I have found that a strong tea made from Calendula flowers and applied to the skin can be very beneficial as well. Aloe vera gel can be very hydrating when applied after treatment, and in cases of peeling or cracking skin, MediHoney can be applied to open wounds and dramatically improves healing time.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or are curious about how naturopathic medicine can help you during cancer treatment, book a complementary 15-minute visit with me today.
Dr. Aleksandra Gasinski, ND
Dr. Aleksandra Gasinski, ND is located at Natural Choice Medical Clinic in Guelph, ON. To book an appointment, visit our website or call the clinic at 519-265-8035.
Ryan JL, Heckler CE, Roscoe JA et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients. Support Care Cancer (2012) 20: 1479.
Anderson PM, Shroeder G, Skubitz KM. Oral glutamine reduces the duration and severity of stomatitis after cytotoxic cancer chemotherapy. Cancer (1998) 83(7): 1433-1439.
Ripamonti C, Zecca E, Brunelli C et al. A randomized, controlled clinical trial to evaluate the effects of zinc sulfate on cancer patients with taste alterations caused by head and neck irradiation. Cancer (1998) 82(10): 1938-1945.
Burns CP, Halabi S, Clamon G et al. Phase II study of high-dose fish oil capsules for patients with cancer-related cachexia. Cancer (2004) 101(2): 370-378.
Schwartz AL, Mori M, Gao R et al. Exercise reduces daily fatigue in women with breast cancer receiving chemotherapy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. (2001): 718-723.
Nahleh Z, Pruemer J, Lafollette J, and Sweany S. Melatonin, a promising role in taxane-related neuropathy. Clinical Medicine Insights: Oncology. (2010) 4:35.