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Cancer patients should view conventional therapies and alternative medicine not as diverging roads to a cure but as parallel and complementary routes, Dan Labriola believes.
``Patients should get the best of both worlds,'' Labriola, a Seattle-based naturopathic physician, said in a presentation Thursday at McPhetres' Hall. He recommended ``an open, balanced view of everything available,'' and then ``choosing carefully.''
Cancer is scary stuff, acknowledged Labriola. ``People get this diagnosis and look at it as a death sentence, but it is not,'' he said.
``There are many new chemotherapies and radiations and surgeries that are very effective. You can do much better or much worse depending on how you bring these therapies into the picture (of cancer treatment),'' he said.
Some people see using herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals to fight tumors ``as voodoo, anecdotal or old wives' tales,'' Labriola said. ``But there is some absolutely good science around vitamins and nutritional supplementation'' that shows they ``can control or prevent disease.''
In the world of conventional medicine, new surgeries are more accurate, he said. Surgeons can tease out nerves to the prostate, eliminating erectile problems and incontinence. Breast cancer surgery formerly removed 15 to 20 lymph nodes under the arm, often leaving patients with permanent swelling and difficulty of arm movement. Modern methods take one biopsy from one node, Labriola said.
As he introduced Labriola, Michael Miller, president and founder of the Southeast Alaska Cancer & Wellness Foundation, noted that the presentation was underwritten by Genentech Inc., a San Francisco firm which produces oncology products such as Rituxan (used for treating lymphoma) and Herceptin (for treating breast cancer).
Miller, a former competitive swim coach, was diagnosed four years ago with metastatic prostate cancer. He founded the local cancer foundation to promote education about cancer, its treatment and causes, he said.
Labriola is a consultant to Memorial Sloan Kettering, Columbia Sloane and the Norwest Prostate Institute. Even these bastions of conventional medicine are considering integrated medicine, working in Chinese acupuncture, massage and other alternative treatments, he said.
Many herbs, vitamins and minerals have cancer-fighting properties, Labriola said. They can also be used to treat side effects of chemotherapy or radiation such as vomiting, mouth sores, insomnia, headaches, digestive disorders and hot flashes.
However, patients should not make decisions on their own but consult an expert, because B vitamins can interfere with radiation therapy, Labriola said. He often inserted the adverb ``carefully'' to caution the audience about using nonconventional approaches to disease. ``Be an informed consumer. Ask a lot of questions,'' he said.
Labriola is the author of ``Complementary Cancer Therapies,'' and the first ever special adviser to the state of Washington's Secretary and Department of Health for Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
An audience of about 40 turned out for the free brown bag session with Labriola at the hall in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Healthy eating was the order of the day, as the audience grazed on tabbouleh with chicken, sprouts, yogurt and sandwiches of sliced tomato on whole-wheat bread, washed down with cranberry juice and iced tea.
For more information about the Southeast Alaska Cancer & Wellness Foundation, call Michael Miller, president, at 586-2952.