Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women and one of the three most common cancers worldwide, along with lung and colon cancer . The survival of patients with breast cancer has increased in recent years due to earlier diagnosis and also due to advances in the treatment of this common disease . However, half of million patients die each year from breast cancer, highlighting the need for further improvements in the management of these patients . Moreover, survivors of breast cancer often exhibit poor quality of life as a result of the complications of treatment .
In this context, complementary medicine might be a useful option is selected patients with breast cancer as an addition to the established treatment options. Complementary medicine includes 5 major categories of treatment: a) traditional medical practices, such as whole medical systems, b) mind-body interventions, c) biological substance–based practices, d) manipulative and body-based practices, and e) energy medicine . Several preclinical studies showed that various herbs used in complementary medicine, including turmeric and black cumin, inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation and induce apoptosis [6, 7]. A number of traditional Chinese medications, including Xihuang, shikonin and bakuchiol, also showed anticancer potential in in vitro studies [8, 9]. However, there are no clinical studies that evaluated the safety and efficacy of these traditional herbs and medications in patients with breast cancer.
Complementary medicine might also have a role in the management of complications of breast cancer treatment. In a randomized, controlled study in 30 patients with breast cancer-related chronic lymphedema, warm acupuncture improved lymphedema, range of motion and quality of life more than placebo treatment and had no adverse effects . In another uncontrolled, pilot study (n = 9), Saam acupuncture, a Korean variation of acupuncture, also improved lymphedema . In a meta-analysis of 9 randomized controlled trials (n = 322), tai chi improved handgrip strength and elbow mobility in patients with breast cancer but had no effect on pain, physical, social or emotional well-being or on general health-related quality of life . In another meta-analysis of 13 studies (n = 606), arts therapy, including music therapy interventions, various types of art therapy, and dance/movement therapies, improved anxiety but had no effect on depression or quality of life in patients with breast cancer . Several studies also showed that yoga improves anxiety, depression, perceived stress, psychological distress, fatigue, functional, social and spiritual well-being as well as global health-related quality of life in this population [14, 15].
In conclusion, complementary medicine appears to be useful for the improvement of well-being in patients with breast cancer. In addition, preclinical data suggest that several traditional herbs might exert antiproliferative and proapoptotic effects on breast cancer cells. However, randomized clinical trials are needed to establish the safety and efficacy of these herbs.
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