The keys to wellness during and after cancer treatment

April 30, 2019 in Healthy Living  •  By Miles Varn, MD

PinnacleCare talked with Dr. Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, a practitioner at Naturopathic Specialists, LLC in Scottsdale AZ, about steps people who have been diagnosed with cancer can take to achieve a higher level of wellness during and after cancer treatment. Dr. Alschuler is a naturopathic doctor with board certification in naturopathic oncology and has been practicing since 1994. She graduated from Brown University with an undergraduate degree in Medical Anthropology and received a doctoral degree in naturopathic medicine from Bastyr University. She is also a professor at the University of Arizona School of Medicine.

PinnacleCare (PC): Tell me about your background.

Dr. Lise Alschuler (LA): I have been in practice for over 20 years. The first ten years or so I did general naturopathic medicine. For the last 15 years, I’ve focused on naturopathic oncology as a board certified naturopathic oncologist.

A naturopathic oncologist’s approach to the experience of cancer is unique. We apply our understanding and knowledge of lifestyle, herbs, and supplements to the disease and the people affected by it. We work with oncologists and support people as they’re going through conventional treatment. We also help patients reduce the risk of recurrence. In addition, if someone is at high-risk of developing cancer, we can work to reduce their risk.

PC: What is the process when someone comes to you with a cancer diagnosis or because they are experiencing side effects from treatment?

LA: The first step is an initial consultation with me and the other doctors in my office. We have an extensive first consultation, usually about 90 minutes. We request the patient’s records beforehand and carefully review them. We query the patient about their disease history and learn as much as we can about the patient. It’s important for us to understand a person’s diet, activity, habits, stress level, family situation—all these things that impact a person’s health and wellbeing.

Then we’ll put together a first set of recommendations tailored to the person’s specific situation. We consider their cancer type, the stage of the cancer, the type of conventional treatment they are receiving or have received, their current symptoms, and their individual needs and come up with a lifestyle and dietary supplement based program.

PC: In the general public, there’s a lot misunderstanding of what naturopathic oncology is. How do you counter that?

LA: Naturopathic oncologists are not alternative care providers. People who come to see us are typically individuals who are also getting conventional treatment. I think of this as a both and approach, not an either or approach. Cancer is a very serious, progressive illness so I tell patients, “Let’s put all of our tools on the table, take their labels off, and use the most effective tools we can, which is typically a combination of conventional and complementary therapies, all of which must have some level of evidence to support their efficacy and be unlikely to be harmful to the patient.

A diagnosis of cancer is a very scary thing and most people who are diagnosed go to the Internet and start searching. It can be very informative but unfortunately there are many websites that offer remarkable opportunities for a cure and make all sorts of promises. So, patients should remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. One of the roles that a naturopathic doctor can play is to help filter the information and really guide people to make safe and effective choices.

PC: What are some of the therapies that you use?

LA: Generally the choice of therapies is very individualized, but for most patients it will include diet, activity, and stress management. We know that diet has an impact on people’s health, risk of cancer, and ability to tolerate conventional treatment. Most of the diet recommendations we make come from the perspective of a plant based diet. That doesn’t mean vegan or vegetarian necessarily. It just means a plant rich diet devoid of processed foods and with a low glycemic index.

We talk about activity, which can vary depending on someone’s situation and where they are in treatment. Some people are very fit and able to be avid exercisers. For other people we’re talking about very gentle movements. What we know is that movement of any kind is important during the journey of cancer. It optimizes longevity, increases wellness, and increases response to treatment.

The role of stress in cancer progression and the risk of recurrence has been strongly associated, so we also talk to patients about ways to manage stress.

PC: We’ve talked mostly about care during cancer treatment. What about wellness after cancer treatment?

LA: That’s a really important area and one where naturopathic medicine excels. We can help people rejuvenate after treatment so they can recover their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. We also focus on dietary supplement recommendations to lower the risk of recurrence. It’s really unfortunate that there are patients who suffer with treatment effects for months if not years that could be very adequately addressed with integrative therapies.

People can’t go wrong if they gain more mindfulness about what they are eating, be more active, and manage stress. More specific strategies can be put in place, depending on the kind of cancer they had or the type of treatment, to maximize recovery more effectively, but the specific recommendations will differ for each patient.

PC: What’s the best way to find a reliable naturopathic oncologist?

LA: PinnacleCare has a great referral database. There’s also the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. On their website, patients can look for a naturopathic doctor in their area.

I really applaud patients who are proactive about their healthcare. The patient is driving the bus. Building a care team that is ready to learn from and work with each other is the first step to getting the best treatment.

Dr. Alschuler practices with other naturopathic oncologists, Dr. Dan Rubin and Dr. Melissa Coats, at Naturopathic Specialists, LLC. in Scottsdale AZ.