Over the past two and a half years I have had the opportunity to learn more about the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation than I would ever have imagined. Working more than 40 plus hours a week with patients who are actively treating for sarcomas, carcinomas, leukemia and lymphomas with chemotherapy and/or radiation keeps me on my toes and thinking outside the box. The training from Palmer College and 13 years in the field was wonderful preparation for the emotionally charged and incredibly rewarding moments I share with these patients.
But some may wonder why cancer patients would want to go anywhere in the vicinity of a chiropractor. I am hoping your answer is the same as mine and my employer’s: “why wouldn’t they?” Richard J. Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, is an advocate of chiropractic care because he has reaped the benefits of chiropractic adjustments for years. He recognized how he functioned more optimally and realized that the patients in his cancer centers would most definitely benefit from chiropractic as well.
One reason that chiropractic might be a popular choice for cancer patients is trust. Patients of any health care provider may become attached and develop trust over time. When the hands on application of the chiropractic adjustment is added to a relationship that has been built over time, there can often be a deep connection. Human touch is thought to be powerfully healing. If a chiropractic patient that is diagnosed with cancer is looking to reduce their anxiety and improve their healing potential, it makes sense that the individual would choose to include chiropractic in their treatment plan. Additionally, chiropractors frequently are the first practitioners to find cancer, either through detailed history and exam or radiographs. Certainly, finding a life-altering condition such as cancer would facilitate some level of trust. So, what can be done with that trust? Let us be clear. Chiropractic does not cure cancer. Chiropractors do not treat cancer. Cancer is complex. The chiropractor that works outside the professional scope of practice does more than jeopardize the safety of his patient. He jeopardizes the reputation of our profession. However, chiropractors have the training and the responsibility to find and treat vertebral subluxation. The key is utilizing safe and effective means to do so. Knowing the contraindications for treating specific regions is paramount.
Simply put, the contraindications for chiropractic care being administered to cancer patients are as follows:
- Primary bone cancer: no treatment within five spinal segments of or directly to the affected extremity
- Unstable bone metastases: no treatment available within five spinal segments of the affected extremity
- Cord compression from space occupying lesion
- Do not treat any extremity with a thrombosis
- Extreme low levels of platelet count
The emphasis on integrating chiropractic care with cancer treatment should be in collaboration with all those involved in the decision-making process. Ultimately, the patient decides what to include. However, patients need to be offered choices and an opportunity to make the best educated decision they can.
Furthermore, patients do have the right to have chiropractors involved with their care if they so wish. The Magna Report stated that chiropractors should be given hospital privileges for those patients who were admitted while under chiropractic care. Furthermore, it stated that DCs should be granted access to diagnostic equipment within the chiropractic scope of practice. The Magna Report and the Wilks vs. AMA lawsuit were vital and only two of many examples that brought chiropractic to new heights of public awareness and access. However, “within the scope of practice” is a key idea to remember when treating cancer patients. It is imperative to know when to refer. With the internet bombarding the search-engine-savvy patient with pills and potions that cure, stop and prevent different types of cancer, the DC that starts prescribing supplements and herbs to a patient receiving conventional treatment for cancer may be putting that patient at risk. While some supplements or herbs may protect a tumor during radiation, others may interfere with chemotherapy.
The key to integrating chiropractic with oncology treatment is a cooperative and communicative approach. Cancer patients face many problems while undergoing treatment to extend their lives. It takes teamwork, open-mindedness and a patient-centered model to fulfill the goal of an improved quality of life.
Jeffrey Sklar, DC, Regional Director of Chiropractic Services at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, has been practicing chiropractic for more than 15 years. Dr. Sklar serves on the ACA committee for Health Promotion and Wellness and is a district board member for the Pennsylvania Chiropractic Association.