Monday, February 27, 2012

Chinese Medicine: Panacea or Poppycock

“Chinese medicine refers to a broad range of medical practices sharing common theoretical concepts which have been developed in China and are based on a tradition of more than 2,000 years. These practices are a common part of medical care throughout East Asia but are considered alternative medicine in the Western world.”(Wikipedia)

Today’s proponents of traditional Chinese medicine seem to think that because it is old it is better. In reality, many of the theories on which it is based have been disproven by modern science. Others may not have been disproven, but they have not been “proven” to be effective in treating disease. I am amazed that rational people who would dismiss other ancient medical practices—voodoo, bloodletting, leeches, and trepanning, to name a few—are able to embrace medical practices based on the mysticism of an ancient culture. The theory in simplest terms on which Chinese medicine is based: Energy moves through meridians in the body, traveling to the organs. Illness results when this energy or “chi” is blocked. For healing to occur the flow of energy must be restored. Among the methods used to accomplish healing are cupping, qigong, moxtibustion, acupuncture, and various herbal remedies.

Medical education in most of China, until recent years, was inferior to medical education in Western countries. In fact, during the 1960s it was nearly non-existent. Admission to medical schools in the last decades of the 20th century required limited prior education. Some students had no more than a junior high education. Much of the curriculum was devoted to political ideology rather than rigorous medical training. However, doctors in the large cities were well trained and practiced conventional medicine.

Another interesting phenomenon peculiar to Chinese medicine was the institution of “barefoot doctors.” In 1968, in order to provide medical care to the largely rural population, farmers were trained to travel throughout their provinces giving basic care to the poor. Candidates were required to be high school graduates who then received three to six months training in a community hospital. The services they provided were basic and primarily preventive—first-aid for injuries, prenatal care, immunizations, childbirth, and health education. Because of the unavailability of many medications, they relied heavily on herbs and folk treatments. They were provided with a textbook, A Barefoot Doctor’s Manual, which gave instructions for the doctors when care in a modern facility was out of reach.

When the manual reached the Western hemisphere, “Chinese alternative medicine went from being a vague curiosity to being an all-out pop culture fad.”(Brian Dunning) People failed to realize that the information was written for lay “doctors” doing the best they could for a population that had no access to modern medicine or hospitals. The methods were not the first choice but better than nothing in less than ideal conditions.

If you are considering an alternative medicine for a life threatening disease like cancer, be sure you have all the facts. Natural doesn’t always mean better. Purge the poppycock.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Alternative Treatments and Cancer

Complementary/alternative treatments, CAM, are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Perhaps because we seem to be losing the war on cancer, many are seeking less toxic treatments with fewer long term side-effects.

Are you considering a “natural” treatment for cancer? What exactly are alternative treatments?

The U.S. government, on its website devoted to Complementary and Alternative Medicine, breaks down these therapies into five categories:

• Biologically-Based, such as herbal supplements, botanicals, animal-derived products, vitamins, proteins, probiotics and other organic approaches.

• Energy Medicine, such as veritable energy like sound, electromagnetic forces, and light or putative energy fields (also called biofields) which work to identify a body's own energy field, also called "chi." Alternative medicine professionals believe that when these biofields are disturbed, it causes illness in the body.
Examples of energy medicine are acupuncture, reiki, Qi gong, homeopathy, healing touch and intercessory prayer in which the prayers of one person help improve the health of another. These particular therapies are among the most controversial of the CAM therapies.

• Manipulative and Body-Based, such as chiropractic, osteopathic, reflexology, and therapeutic massage. These therapies rely on the structures and systems of the body, making adjustments to them to heal symptoms and medical problems.

• Mind-Body Medicine, which focuses on the interactions among the brain, behavior and physical health, such as meditation, yoga, biofeedback, tai chi, even spirituality.

• Whole Medical Systems that have evolved totally separately from what we consider to be conventional medicine in the United States. These systems have names like naturopathy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, Eastern medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. You will see some of these names already mentioned in the categories above. The distinction here is in the way they developed rather than the therapy itself.

These alternative treatments hold great appeal for me, as they do for anyone seeking a more natural approach to health. The problem is that there is little scientific based evidence of their efficacy. During the next few weeks, I will delve into these therapies to help you decide whether and how you might incorporate them into your cancer treatments.

Tomorrow, we will discuss, Chinese Medicine: Panacea or Poppycock?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cancer Economics

Before cancer, I didn’t pay much attention to health coverage. No one in our family had been seriously ill and we had excellent group insurance through Jim’s employer. Our deductible was negligible. When we were deciding on an oncologist, I remember in my naiveté telling Jim, “I don’t care whether the doctor we choose accepts our insurance, we are going to the place that is best for you even if it means paying out of our own pockets.” Little did I know that our pockets would be emptied along with our piggy banks after first week of cancer treatment.

We were fortunate. For the first five years of cancer treatments, our insurance paid 100%. Even the Neupogen and Epogen injections I gave Jim at home were fully covered. Thank God because the shots would have cost 4,000 dollars a week or 128,000 dollars for the sixteen weeks of treatment.

By the time of Jim’s first lung cancer recurrence, our benefits changed—requiring a 10% co-pay, a sizeable amount considering the astronomical cost of cancer treatment—but still manageable. Manageable, but enough to make us question the cost verses benefits of every recommended drug and procedure.

In 2011, we, the first of the baby boomers became card carrying members of AARP. Medicare is now our primary provider and we had to choose which part, which supplement, and which drug plan we wanted for secondary. After much research and professional advice, we chose AARP for our prescription drug coverage. We followed instructions, contacted our physicians to send in prescriptions, and waited to begin receiving our meds.

Instead we received calls to tell us that several of our drugs had not been approved. Nearly all of those that were approved tripled in cost.

I only take four medications: Boniva, Lexapro, Singulair, and Lumigan (an eye drop for Glaucoma). I could probably live without all but the Lumigan, and I may choose to do just that.

Jim who took no meds prior to his cancer diagnosis now takes a whopping fifteen. And that excludes any chemotherapeutic agents since he is off chemo at the present time. To be fair not all of his medications increased in cost, but the eight that did, skyrocketed.

I have always been sympathetic to the plight of senior citizens who are unable to afford life sustaining medications. I never imagined I would be one of them.

When I fear that we won’t be able to afford Jim’s medications or more accurately that our savings will be wiped out by rising medical costs, I must remind myself that God has provided for us throughout this journey, indeed, throughout our lives. He will continue to provide what we need when we need it. “Therefore, take not thought, saying what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or Wherewithal shall we be clothed...for your heavenly father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”

Insurance providers will change; Medicare might fail; Social Security might come tumbling down. But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.