CANSA Research Highlights – 17 February 2009
Cancer Patients Turning To Complementary Medicine to increase wellness
The majority of cancer patients use so-called “complementary methods” in addition to traditional treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy, according to a study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society and published in the journal Cancer.
“We receive thousands of phone calls each year about complementary methods at the American Cancer Society national cancer information center, and our Web pages on complementary methods are among the most popular on our Web site,” lead author Ted Gansler said.
The researchers surveyed 4,139 adults who had been diagnosed with cancer within the previous 10 to 24 months about their use of complementary methods to improve their health and reduce the side effects of cancer treatments. Prayer or other spiritual practices was the most common complementary method, used by 61 percent of patients. The use of nutritional supplements or vitamins was reported by 40 percent of respondents, as were relaxation techniques and faith or spiritual healing methods. Massage, meditation, religious counseling and support groups were less popular, and were each used by only 10 to 15 percent of patients.
Gansler said that more research is needed on which methods are the most effective.
“Learning more about which complementary methods help cancer survivors with pain, fatigue, anxiety, depression, overall psychological adjustment, and overall physical functioning is very feasible,” he said. “That information could increase attention and resources for providing complementary methods that are helpful and reducing the time and money spent on ones that are not.”
Gansler noted that while recent studies have backed up the effectiveness of acupuncture in relieving the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of conventional therapies, only 1.2 percent of respondents reported using it. In contrast, 40 percent of respondents used vitamin therapy even though research has not supported its effectiveness and it can actually be risky in high doses.
Use of complementary methods was more common among women, whites, the young and those with higher income and education levels.
Sources for this story include: www.reuters.com
CANSA comment: CANSA is aware of the rapid growth of so-called complementary and alternative cancer therapies or palliative treatments over the past few decades. CANSA is concerned that many unknowing South Africans are turning to a largely unregulated and often aggressively marketed sector to find the “miracle cure.” Click here to read CANSA’s position statement on complementary medicines.
Art Therapy ups breast cancer patients’ well-being
NEW YORK – Women having radiation treatment for breast cancer experienced lasting improvements in mental and physical health and quality of life after participating in five sessions of art therapy, Swedish researchers report.
The findings “strongly support art therapy as a powerful tool in rehabilitation of patients with breast cancer and, presumably, also in the care of patients with other types of cancer,” Dr. Jack Lindh of Umea University, Umea, Sweden, and colleagues conclude in the European Journal of Cancer Care.
Women face major stresses after a diagnosis of breast cancer and art therapy could offer a way for women to express and “process” their emotions, the researchers say, thus improving their quality of life.
To investigate, they randomly assigned 41 breast cancer patients receiving radiation treatment to five once-a-week, hour-long sessions of art therapy or to a control group who didn’t receive art therapy. Study participants completed surveys addressing their quality of life and self-image before beginning radiation, two months after radiation treatment began, and six months after the beginning of treatment.
A trained art therapist led each session, in which women were given a wide variety of art materials. Goals of the intervention were to offer time and space for expression and reflection; give support in the process of restoring body image; and reduce stress.
By six months, the researchers found, women who had participated in art therapy showed significant improvements in their overall quality of life, general health, physical health, and psychological health, while the control group only showed improvements in psychological health. The art therapy group also showed specific improvements in their body image, perspectives on the future, and radiation therapy side effects.
In previous studies, Lindh’s team demonstrated improved coping skills and better ability to deal with others’ demands in the breast cancer patients who did art therapy.
Art therapy may have improved the women’s quality of life by helping them to maintain a positive identity, to deal with pain, and to feel control over their lives, the researchers say.
“The results of our studies suggest that the women, through image-making and reflection on their images, were able to give legitimacy to their own interpretations and experiences,” as well as to “recognize and question” limits and boundaries imposed by traditional gender roles, they conclude.
SOURCE: European Journal of Cancer Care, January 2009
School-based health program boosts kids’ activity
NEW YORK – Primary schools are suitable settings for promoting healthy lifestyles to students, say researchers in the United Kingdom.
Over a 10-month period, students attending schools offering a healthy lifestyle program increased their level of moderate to vigorous physical activity by 9 minutes a day, report Dr. Trish Gorely and colleagues.
By contrast, students attending schools following standard practices showed a corresponding 10-minute decrease in physical activity, the investigators report in the online publication International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.
Gorely, at the Institute of Youth Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University, and colleagues followed physical activity levels and consumption of fruit and vegetable among 589 students who were 7 to 11 years old and attending one of eight primary schools.
Four of these schools followed standard practices (controls) and four adopted an intervention program that provided teaching resources on exercise and nutrition, activity planning, and a focus on “highlight events” such as one mile walks and runs.
“From the feedback we received, the highlight events appear critical and gave a real focus to everything else that was done,” Gorely told Reuters Health.
Moreover, everyone in the intervention schools, from the head teacher down, participated, Gorely said.
Teachers incorporated healthy lifestyle educational resources into their classes; pupils, parents, and teachers had access to an interactive website; and students received summer activity suggestions aimed at encouraging them to continue the physical and dietary recommendations when not in school.
The investigators noted no change in fruit and vegetable consumption during the 10-month study period.
However, in addition to significantly increasing daily time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity, the intervention students increased their steps by 316 per day, compared with just a 153 step increase among control students on average.
This amplified activity may have contributed to the slower increase in body fat, body mass, and waist circumference among the older students at the intervention schools.
Gorely suggested continued research to find ways to facilitate dietary changes through school-based interventions, as well as repeat investigations to assess the efficacy of a similar program in more ethnically diverse schools.
SOURCE: International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, January 2009
CANSA Comment: In order to help reduce the incidence of cancer, CANSA’s educational and awareness programmes include the Healthy Living Schools Programme which involves drama, music and entertainment to give healthy messages to thousands of learners in high schools and primary schools each month. These fun-filled events promote healthy lifestyles and good habits such as not smoking, getting regular exercise, eating healthy foods, staying safe in the sun and going for regular medical checkups.
Living with a smoker hard on tiny infants
NEW YORK – Infants born at very low birth weights are at increased risk of lung ailments in the first 12 months of life, and a new study suggests that modifiable indoor respiratory triggers, namely exposure to cigarette smoke and pests in the home, may be at least partly to blame.
In a study of 124 very low birth weight infants, Dr. Jill S. Halterman from University of Rochester, New York and colleagues analyzed the impact of modifiable exposures on respiratory illness 1 year after discharge from the neonatal intensive care unit.
“In this study, we found that respiratory illnesses were very common among very low birth weight infants in their first year of life,” Halterman noted in comments to Reuters Health. “In fact, almost 1 in 10 infants had already been diagnosed with asthma at this very young age.”
According to the report in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, 47 percent of infants required one or more acute care visits and 11 percent had to be hospitalized for respiratory illness.
Eighty-two percent of infants were exposed to at least one indoor environmental trigger, and one third lived in a home with a smoker. “The infants who lived with a smoker and those who were exposed to pests were more likely to need acute care for respiratory illnesses compared to those who weren’t exposed,” Halterman reported.
Exposure to pests in the home was defined as a yes answer to — “had or wanted to have an exterminator or used any chemicals in the past year to control for pests.”
In analyses controlling for relevant factors including family history of asthma or allergies, both living with a smoker and exposure to pests were independently associated with the need for acute care for respiratory illness.
This is an important finding, Halterman said, “because these represent modifiable exposures, which, if eliminated, could potentially have a significant influence on improving health for these young infants.”
She advises medical care providers to “talk to families about these risks and provide appropriate counseling and support to help families make needed changes in their homes.”
SOURCE: Archives of Diseases in Childhood, January 2009.
CANSA Comment: It is important to make sure your home is healthy without cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogenes) such as tobacco smoke, asbestos and many more. Click here to find out how to safeguard your home.
Many kids don’t need the vitamins they’re taking
But poor children who do need supplements aren’t getting them, study shows.
Many healthy U.S. children and teenagers may be popping vitamins and mineral supplements they don’t need, researchers report.
The experts note that vitamin and mineral supplements are not considered necessary when a person eats a varied diet.
On the other hand, children who actually need these supplements — those with poorer nutrition, less physical activity, and from low-income households — may not be getting the dosage of vitamins and minerals they require, according to researchers reporting in the February issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend supplemental vitamins for most children over the age of 1. The supplements are recommended for children with chronic diseases, eating disorders and certain other conditions.
In fact, supplement overdose or poisoning can be an issue, especially in younger (2-to-4-year-olds) children; overdoses can lead to vomiting, or to more serious problems such as kidney or liver damage.
“We were curious about why certain parents may choose to use over-the-counter multivitamin supplements for children, and some might not,” said study author Dr. Ulfat Shaikh, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California Davis School of Medicine and pediatrician at UC Davis Children’s Hospital. “We hypothesized that supplements might be used to reduce adverse effects if parents thought their child wasn’t eating right or were wondering where their next meal was coming from.”
The authors reviewed data on vitamin and mineral supplementation as well as diet, exercise and health insurance factors on almost 11,000 children and adolescents aged 2 to 17 from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
About a third (34 percent) of young people had used vitamin and mineral supplements in the month before being interviewed.
As expected, underweight children used vitamins and minerals the most.
Surprisingly, however, these supplements were more likely to be consumed by children who did not need them as much, i.e. white children from families with higher incomes, more food security and, overall, better nutrition and physical activity levels. Thirty-seven percent of these children (who were also less likely to be obese) took vitamins, compared to 28 percent of those in less privileged situations.
Cost seems to be the biggest obstacle to lower-income households adding supplements to their children’s diet, the team found.
“One of the things that we thought was responsible for this was the possibility that income and parental education status might override other factors,” Shaikh said.
And, indeed, the data showed that 22 percent of children in households below the federal poverty line used vitamins, compared with 43 percent in households above the poverty line.
Thirty-eight percent of children in households without food stamps used vitamins, compared with 18 percent of youngsters in households that did use food stamps.
For its part, the supplements industry views the findings as a “call to action” to get vitamin and mineral supplements to this underserved population, said Duffy MacKay, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Center for Responsible Nutrition, in Washington, D.C.
The center has been lobbying to get vitamins and mineral supplementation covered by the food stamp program and WIC (Women Infants Children), Duffy said.
An outside expert added another thought to the process.
“The problem is people who can afford vitamin supplements can also afford a lot of different varieties of food — not that I think people on limited budgets can’t afford to eat healthy,” said Kris Rudolph, a pediatric dietitian at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “But . . . you definitely need to sit down and think about it, and you have to have somebody who’s helpful.”
Low-income families can get vitamins on prescription if they have documented deficiencies, but that documentation is also hard to come by, Rudolph added.
On the other hand, Rudolph noted, a can of canned fruit or a bag of frozen vegetables can provide good nutrition.
CANSA Comment: Eating healthy food and getting regular exercise from a young age are important ways to stay fit and reduce your risk of getting cancer later in life. We all must encourage children to balance food and drink choices with physical activity. How to eat wisely (read more)…
Alice Victor – Resource & Research Coordinator
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