Medication may not be the only answer for breast cancer survivors and patients coping with side effects of long-term treatment. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga and massages may also help women cope, said a breast oncologist from the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine.
"The number of breast cancer survivors continues to improve and we are so thrilled about that," said Dr. Polly Niravath, assistant professor in the Smith Breast Center. "But a lot of these women have side effects from their long-term treatment."
There are a variety of alternative therapies that may help reduce some of these effects which can include memory loss and fatigue, she said.
"There is really good data that regular exercise helps with depression, problems with memory and attention and fatigue," said Niravath. "There is also a clear association with reduced recurrence and regular exercise."
Yoga is a newer trend amongst survivors that is showing a benefit, she said. "Yoga can be relaxing, and it is an excellent form of exercise."
Adding to the benefit of relaxation, getting a massage may also help, Niravath said. Furthermore, massages administered by trained specialists have also been proven to help with problems such as lymphedema and cancer-related pain.
Many current patients will struggle with nausea and vomiting from their chemotherapy while survivors sometimes struggle with joint pain from hormonal therapy, Niravath said.
"Acupuncture may help with these common problems," said Niravath. "There is actually good data that suggests this eases the adverse effects of treatment." She cautions patients to always ensure that they are seeing a licensed, experienced acupuncturist.
Support groups are also another way for breast cancer survivors and patients to cope with their treatment side effects.
If patients and survivors continue to struggle with certain side effects, prescription medication may be the best option for them, she said. "The first step is also the most important step – discuss these problems with your doctor," said Niravath. "Many patients are reluctant to discuss treatment-related side effects with their oncologist because they think it is not relevant, or they don't want to 'complain.'" There are many things which your doctor can suggest which may significantly improve quality of life, she said
"The good news is that many symptoms will improve over time as a woman's body starts to normalize following the completion of treatment," said Niravath.
At both the Baylor Clinic and Harris Health System's Smith Clinic locations, Smith Breast Center physicians are currently applying for grants which will assist in offering these resources to patients, said Niravath.