Dr. Lisa Schwartz warns patients against unproven natural cancer remedies urging them to stick with complementary and integrative medicine. Dr. Lisa Schwartz is the Director of Integrative Medicine at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Medical Center.
EmpowHER Correspondent: If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, the desire to get well can lead you on a desperate search for solutions. But are natural cures the answer?
We spoke with Dr. Lisa Schwartz, the Medical Director of Integrative Medicine at the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center to find out.
Dr. Lisa Schwartz: You know, cancer patients represent an incredibly vulnerable population, and it goes back to the Providence mission of helping the sick and the poor and the vulnerable and these patients typically fall into those categories. Cancer is a very scary disease, and so, they usually want to do what doctors recommend for them, but they also know that in some cases their odds may not be that great -- that what conventional medicine has to offer is toxic; it may have side effects; it may not be successful and so they’re looking for other things. And, they may have family members who aren’t ready to have them go through this serious treatment, or who aren’t ready to lose them yet, and they come up with all kinds of things that they think are going to be helpful for their loved one, because they have read it on the Internet; most likely that’s where it comes from, or they have been contacted by somebody who had a friend who used this and cured their cancer.
And really, it is a very vulnerable population, because in spite of the successes that we have in treating a lot of cancers, it still is a scary disease, and so they automatically go to a place where they want to look for doing everything and anything that they can, and sometimes they don’t realize that some of the things that they can be doing are actually harmful for them. Those are the patients I really especially want to catch, before they actually start their treatments, so that we can discuss it, and I can explain to them why that might interfere with the treatment they really do want to get. They want to get all their conventional therapy, they just don’t realize some of the things that they are doing are actually harmful or may be counter-productive to the traditional treatment.
For example, one of the most common things is just regular vitamins. There are certain vitamins that are antioxidants, and there’s this sort of urban legend out there, that antioxidants will prevent cancer, and often patients diagnosed with cancer look to the things that supposedly prevent cancer, and they will load up on normal "healthy things that can't hurt", getting all the antioxidants they can , like Vitamin C, right? No brainer, clearly good for you.
Yes, but, antioxidants interfere with chemotherapy and radiation. You need the process of oxidation to occur for many of those treatments to work. There’s debate, even within integrative medicine, whether or not this type of thing truly is harmful. Most of us who practice integrative oncology come down on the side of yes, antioxidants probably do decrease side effects, but the reason they decrease side effects is because they decrease the efficacy of those treatments. So, that’s one thing patients typically get into that I really wish I could get to them before they start their treatment, and we could have a discussion.
EmpowHER Correspondent: And Dr. Schwartz warns about “to good to be true” cures.
Dr. Lisa Schwartz: That’s just it, you know, “Well doc, I can’t afford my prescription medicines now because I just spent five thousand dollars on shark cartilage.” I mean, how frustrating is that and there’s zero evidence to support shark cartilage in a treatment of cancer.
So it’s our job to give them hope in the real effective medicines that we do have, and when patients come to see me at the beginning of the treatment we talk about the anticipated side effects, and we talk about all of the therapies that we have available, whether they be complimentary or regular conventional therapy like nutritional counseling and psychological support and physical therapy, how all of those things, if they will make use of them, will support them through their treatment. And, if you can improve somebody’s quality of life through treatment, support them through their treatment, they can tolerate their treatment better, and that actually leads to better outcomes and higher survival rates.
EmpowHER Correspondent: For the latest information on cancer treatment, visit EmpowHER.com.
About Dr. Lisa Schwartz, M.D.:
Lisa Marie Schwartz, MD, is the Medical Director of Integrative Medicine for The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. She received her medical education at the Medical University of South Carolina. She completed residencies in both internal medicine and radiation oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. After practicing radiation oncology for a number of years, Dr. Schwartz was motivated by her patients’ use of complementary medicine to learn more about it. She completed a master’s degree in Traditional Oriental Medicine at Emperor’s College and associate fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona under Dr. Andrew Weil. She is nationally board certified in radiation oncology, internal medicine, acupuncture, and Chinese medicine.
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