Boston: Exploring Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Three months – it only took three months for my friend to be diagnosed and taken by cancer.


Always been fascinated by the usage of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for cancer treatments, I was able to receive funding from the Jon Curtis Student Enrichment Fund (SEF) to explore the topic in Boston, Massachusetts. I begin the exploration locally and discovered that the major hospitals in North Carolina have all incorporated a CAM division, however, it is not used as frequently in treatments compared to the major hospitals in Boston.

Background on CAM:

Complementary and alternative therapies most commonly include acupuncture, massage therapy, Reiki, expressive arts therapy, and meditation. Researches have shown that these can help ease cancer-related symptoms and improve quality of life by easing symptoms such as nausea, reduce pain, and lessen the anxiety associated with the traditional cancer treatment.





From the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which is one of the biggest cancer center in the nation, I learned that many patients do participate in one of their CAM program. The patients are especially receptive to the less invasive options, such as arts therapy and meditation. However, all patients can meet with a consultant that can provide detail information on each treatment options. The patients often overlook the CAM program unless it was specifically mentioned to them in person as there are still some misconceptions and superstition surrounding non-Western medicine (There has been more than enough researches that establishes the legitimacy of CAM). The younger physicians are exposed to CAM as it is now mentioned in most medical school curriculums, but there are the physicians from older generations that does not have as in depth knowledge on the effectiveness of CAM.
Next is the Chi Wellness Clinic, which is a traditional Chinese medicine based clinic. Patients here are mostly Asians, next are women. Due to the name and the Eastern-medicine focused method, they attract mostly Asian patients who already had exposure to CAM. It was interesting that women is their newest niche of clients, they believe that women are more willing to accept their different culture and proceeding to sharing their experiences to a larger audience of women.

It was very interesting to learn the receptiveness of the patients of traditional cancer treatment to CAM in the major hospital. I believe that many patients are simply not explained and convinced that CAM may help them relieve discomforts from their cancer treatments. Therefore, public exposure would be the key to maximize the impact of CAM. Fortunately, many major hospitals in the United States have opened a CAM division and the growth is continuous.


Challenges of independent research:
I was definitely able to explore the topic I was interested in, but I had a very high (perhaps unattainable) expectation on how easy independent research would be. I have conducted researches before, consulting, public health, and even “independent” lab research, but never a truly self-designed one that the SEF have provided me to experience.
First off, I wanted to visit four different hospitals and clinics combined. I knew to contact these places early as I have learned from college that adults are busy. However, one clinic needed rescheduling, but their availability was outside my schedule. Then the week before my flight and the first day of my trip, the two doctors from my two hospitals contacted me that they would have to either reschedule or have me talk to their CAM consultant. This is understandable, since I recently had a friend that found out she had cancer and needed immediate treatment, but I was not expecting it while planning my research. I naively expected that anything scheduled would be followed through.
A lesson I learned the hard way – but this is also why the SEF is a fantastic opportunity. It allowed me to learn the many difficulties of research I often overlook: budgeting, scheduling/rescheduling, need for flexibility and how to analyze the data that you have gathered as it may be different from expectation.

Let me know your opinion on CAM and any questions you have below ↓↓↓

“Explore your passions. Inspire your campus.” -SEF


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