CLL alternative therapies and complementary treatments

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) occurs when the bone marrow makes atypical white blood cells. These cells crowd out the healthy cells, impairing a person’s immune system. Treatment involves killing the cancerous cells to stop them from spreading.

So far, the only scientifically recommended treatments that can achieve this are:

Alternative therapies for CLL involve replacing medical treatments with other forms of medication or lifestyle changes. However, there is not much evidence suggesting they are effective for treating CLL in comparison with standard treatments.

However, for many people, complementary therapies can help ease symptoms and treatment side effects and improve quality of life. Complementary therapies are methods a person uses alongside regular medical treatment.

Because people often integrate these alternative therapies with their regular medical treatments, individuals often refer to this treatment plan as integrated medicine.

In this article, we will discuss whether it is possible to treat CLL naturally, complementary therapies for CLL, and their benefits.

Currently, there is no strong evidence that natural therapies can treat or cure CLL. This includes:

  • herbal medication
  • dietary supplements
  • diet plans
  • homeopathy
  • detoxes or cleanses

However, CLL does not always need treatment right away. It can develop slowly and may show no signs or symptoms for a few years,

Therefore, in some cases, doctors may decide to monitor a person’s condition without giving them any treatments to see if their signs and symptoms change. This is known as watchful waiting or observation.

If a person needs treatment, doctors may recommend one or more of the following:

  • Immunotherapy: Medication that strengthens the immune system.
  • Chemoimmunotherapy: A combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy: Uses medications or substances to identify and attack the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Uses high-strength X-rays that kill cancer cells and stop them from spreading.
  • Stem cell transplants: Involves taking healthy bone marrow from a donor and putting it into the person with CLL.

Doctors do not recommend relying solely on alternative treatments as a replacement for medical intervention. That said, some alternative therapies show promise as complementary treatments, which may help a person cope with having CLL mentally or physically.

Additionally, if someone is considering alternative treatments, they should discuss this with a healthcare professional first to determine if there will be any risks.

Below are some complementary therapies for CLL.

Dietary changes may help a person with CLL:

  • maintain their body weight
  • reduce nausea
  • support their immune system
  • reduce the risk of food-borne illnesses
  • improve energy and strength

However, the exact diet a person follows can depend on their symptoms and needs. For example, for those experiencing appetite loss or weight loss, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada recommends:

  • eating small, nutrient-dense meals and snacks throughout the day
  • trying high calorie liquid foods, such as soups or shakes, if eating is difficult
  • focusing on healthy fats to boost calories, such as olive oil or avocado oil
  • eating with friends or family, where possible

Learn more about diets for CLL.

Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound present in turmeric. It also has antioxidant and anticancer properties. A 2017 review argues that this makes curcumin beneficial to take during cancer treatment, particularly in the early stages.

And while curcumin alone is not a cure for CLL, numerous laboratory and human studies have found it improves outcomes alongside conventional cancer treatment.

However, more long-term, large scale human trials are necessary to fully understand the effects of curcumin. This is because people with CLL may need to take it for long periods for it to have an effect.

According to the National Cancer Institutesome clinical trials report that acupuncture can reduce nausea and vomiting for those undergoing chemotherapy.

A 2020 literature review also found that acupuncture may be helpful in managing cancer-related fatigue among cancer survivors, helping improve their quality of life.

Furthermore, a 2021 systematic review of previous research concluded that acupuncture may be an effective and safe way to reduce pain for CLL patients in palliative care.

Receiving a diagnosis of CLL, experiencing symptoms, and undergoing cancer treatment can all be highly distressing. Some people find that complementary therapies, such as mind-body therapies, help them cope with this.

Mind-body therapies aim to promote mental and physical well-being simultaneously. They often involve mindfulness or relaxation, which in turn, may affect symptoms. People may find it helpful to try:

  • meditation
  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • music therapy
  • hypnosis

The National Cancer Institute says there is a lack of conclusive evidence to prove aromatherapy is an effective form of treatment to manage the symptoms of cancer. Some studies suggest it may help some people with their mood, anxiety, nausea, or pain. However, other studies have shown no change in symptoms.

If a person finds aromatherapy helpful, they may feel benefits from aromatherapy massages or diffusers.

Learn more about aromatherapy.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in the cannabis plant. It is not addictive, and some report that it helps with relieving the symptoms or complications of cancer, including nausea, vomiting, and depression.

However, research on CBD is still in its early stages. Therefore, more studies are necessary to confirm it works reliably for people with CLL.

Learn more about using CBD for cancer.

Before trying any alternative or complementary therapy, it is important to speak with a doctor. Some therapies, such as herbal medicine, aromatherapy, or diet changes, may affect a person’s treatment. Some can also interact with medications.

People with CLL can also speak with their doctor about safely incorporating complementary therapies into their treatment plan.

Other things to consider include what someone wants to achieve with the therapy, whether they need to go to a specific location to get it, and how much it costs.

Some health insurance companies may cover certain complementary therapies for those with leukemia. It is worth contacting insurers to check this before paying.

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society recommends that people interested in complementary therapies for CLL ask their doctor some questions, such as:

  • Are there any complementary therapies you recommend?
  • What are the benefits of complementary therapies?
  • Are there any risks or side effects?
  • Will this complementary therapy interact with my treatment?
  • Do you offer this therapy at your practice?
  • Are there any complementary therapies you would advise against trying?
  • How much are these treatments?

Some people turn to alternative therapies for CLL instead of doctor-recommended treatments. However, there is not much evidence to support their effectiveness compared with chemotherapy, radiation, and other conventional treatments.

However, many doctors support using complementary therapies alongside medical treatment. Acupuncture, dietary changes, and mind-body approaches may help with managing symptoms and treatment side effects.

Preliminary evidence also suggests some supplements, such as curcumin, may help enhance chemotherapy. However, more research on which therapies are most helpful is necessary.

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