The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care

Katherine Lagomarsino

CURE, Winter 2012, Volume 11, Issue 4

Book review of "The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care"

The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care: Essential Information for Patients, Survivors and Health Professionals

by Barrie R. Cassileth, PhD

Can the power of crystals cure cancer? Is there scientific evidence to explain why sipping ginger tea eases chemo-induced nausea? Can laughing out loud alleviate pain? These questions, and many more, are answered in Barrie Cassileth’s compendium, The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care.

Cassileth is chief of the Integrative Medicine Service at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Using knowledge gained from her years spent establishing educational and clinical programs in integrative oncology, Cassileth has compiled a guide to help cancer patients navigate the often conflicting information that goes with complementary and alternative therapies. Cassileth begins by drawing a clear distinction between complementary therapies, which are beneficial therapies used in addition to traditional medical treatments, and alternative therapies, which are unproven or disproved therapies used in place of mainstream medical care. She is adamant that alternative therapies never be used in place of traditional cancer treatments.

The book is divided into seven sections, some of which include dietary and herbal remedies (dietary supplements, herbal medicines, vegetarianism); mind-body therapies (biofeedback, meditation, yoga); and alternative therapies (chelation therapy, colon/detoxification therapies, metabolic therapies). Each entry begins with an interesting and often entertaining history of a therapy’s origins as well as a brief explanation of its purpose. It also discusses what proponents of each therapy claim it does, scientific evidence from the medical community and a section on what it can possibly do for cancer patients—benefits as well as harms.

Because her mission is just as much to reveal cancer quackery as it is to uncover legitimate complementary therapy, this guide is an invaluable resource, especially in a time when “miracle cures” for cancer are prolific on the Internet.