What do we know about alternative therapies for prostate cancer?

The minute any man hears the words, “You have prostate cancer,” he will immediately want it taken care. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in American men, after non-melanoma skin cancer. Receiving this diagnosis is difficult, leaving men and their loved ones feeling overwhelmed and anxious. What are the next steps? What are the best treatments?

Over the next few days and weeks, men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer have many decisions. Surgery, radiation, active surveillance is possible solutions to eradicating or monitoring cancer growing in their bodies.

What about alternative therapies for prostate cancer?

Men may consider alternative therapies as an adjunct to usual prostate cancer treatments.  Alternative therapies or treatments are different from the norm of established, evidenced-based medical treatments traditionally used for treating serious illnesses like cancer. 

Men with prostate cancer may wonder if alternative treatments might slow down or treat the disease. For now, there is little to no scientific or medical evidence that alternative therapies work. At most, studies have shown some alternative therapies may offer mental and physical benefits, beneficial for improving quality of life. However, never use alternative therapies to replace or used first when treating prostate cancer.

Also, some therapies may be unsafe or lead to harmful side effects. Therefore, any man considering an alternative therapy for prostate cancer should always ask their doctor’s clinical opinion first. 

Examples of alternative therapies for prostate cancer

There are plenty of alternative therapies offered by various people, either with or without a medical background. Each type may bring some relief in some form for some men. But, will they cure prostate cancer or slow the progression? This remains unanswered.

Below are examples of alternative therapies possibly for prostate cancer:

Lycopene

This powerful antioxidant is found abundantly in some fruits and vegetables, the highest being cooked tomatoes. Some studies have found men who consume tomatoes and other foods like watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya, may lower prostate cancer rates. 

Small studies have suggested that lycopene supplements for men with prostate cancer may play a role in treating the disease, but more studies are needed before recommendations are made. 

Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese acupuncture has been used for centuries to improve health conditions such as pain. It uses very thin steel needles inserted into a person’s skin at various ‘acupoints.’ The needles are believed to change the flow of energy pathways in the body helping release natural chemicals to fight a symptom or illness. A well-trained acupuncturist should be skilled in minimizing any side effects. But, using an inexperienced acupuncturist could result in an infection or injury from the procedure. 

Acupuncture may help with pain relief or relieve nausea induced by chemotherapy for prostate cancer. However, studies on acupuncture are limited. While it may be helpful for pain relief, it is unknown if the treatment is effective in slowing the progression of prostate cancer.

Mind-body practices like yoga and meditation

Prostate cancer is associated in anxiety, fear, and depression in up to one-third of men with the disease, including a twofold increased risk of suicide. On the other hand, yoga traditionally has been effective for relaxation and inducing calmness. In fact, a small study in Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases, found that men diagnosed with prostate cancer, who practiced yoga six weeks preoperatively before a radical prostatectomy and six weeks postoperatively, had improvements in their quality of life, their immune response, and reduced inflammation. 

Meditation is another calming and relaxing technique also beneficial for patients with cancer. Another small study found that men with prostate cancer who practiced mindfulness meditation, had reductions in anxiety, fear, and depression. 

Both yoga and meditation are low-cost, low-risk approaches to alleviating anxiety and worry and for improving quality of life which many cancer treatments are offering to cancer patients. 

Herbal remedies

About one-third of men with prostate cancer use at least one form of complementary therapies, including herbs and supplements. Some studies support their use in possibly helping with prostate cancer treatment. However, herbs and supplements can interact with prescribed medications, either enhancing effects or negating benefits. 

Common herbal remedies men often turn to are St. John’s wort, saw palmetto, or melatonin. The belief is these supplements may slow the progression of prostate cancer, but they may also increase risk of bleeding if a man is also using aspirin, anticoagulants or antiplatelet medications. 

In some cases, some supplements could even increase the risk of prostate cancer. For example,  2011 study published in JAMA, found that men taking vitamin E supplements raised their risk of prostate cancer by 17% compared to men who took a placebo. 

Takeaway message

Bottom line, alternative therapies are not miracle workers. They may benefit when used as a complementary adjunct for prostate cancer but, men should consult with their doctor if they support their use during the treatment and management of the disease.

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