Individuals with leukemia often employ alternative or complementary therapies. Some of these provide pain relief and improve psychological well being. No controlled studies have yet shown that alternative treatments offer cures for ALL, although some may hold promise of benefit.
Patients with ALL sometimes use acupuncture, which offers relief from generalized pain, nausea, and vomiting. Other methods that may help with the physical and often emotional side effects of treatment include hypnosis, guided imagery, and yoga.
Nutritional supplements and herbs are sometimes utilized by persons with leukemia. Coenzyme Q10 is an
antioxidant, a substance that protects cells from toxic byproducts of metabolism. Early studies suggest, although it is not proven, that coenzyme Q10 can improve immune function and counteract some of the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiation on healthy cells. Adverse effects of coenzyme Q10 include headache, rash, heartburn and diarrhea. Another supplement with potential benefit is polysaccharide K (PSK). A few studies have shown PSK to have some benefit in improving immunity.
Supplements that have not been proven to be of value or are potentially dangerous to those with leukemia include camphor, sometimes called 714-X. Green tea has received much press for its reported abilities to enhance the immune system and fight cancer, but studies have had conflicting results. Some show that green tea has preventive benefits and others show no effect. A few animal studies suggest that growth of tumors might be slowed by green tea, but this has not been shown in humans yet.
Hoxsey is another supplement touted as a cancer treatment, but no studies have confirmed any benefit. Some of its ingredients have serious adverse effects. Vitamin megadoses have long been advocated as beneficial in cancer, but no conclusive studies show benefit, and they have significant potential for adverse effects, such as diarrhea, kidney stones, iron overload, nerve damage and liver disease.
Laetrile, or amygdalin, was once touted as a cure for cancer and leukemia. No human or animal studies conducted in the decades since have shown any benefit other than relief of some pain. Laetrile can, however, cause cyanide poisoning.
Complementary and alternative treatments are recommended less frequently for children. Real caution must be used in administering herbal remedies to children, whose metabolisms are very different from those of adults. For example, jin bu hua, a traditional Chinese medicine, can cause heart or breathing problems. Life root and comfrey can both cause fatal liver damage in children.
While many children are too young for formal guided imagery, they can be distracted from the fears and pain associated with some treatments by toys and videotapes. Reading favorite books during scary procedures can relieve some of their fears.
Marianne Vahey M.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,