By Karen Oslund

Once when I was about 8 years old, I showed a bump on my foot to my dad. “It’s a wart,” he said. “Rub a penny on it, morning and night, and it will go away.” So, I did, religiously, and a few weeks later, the wart was gone. I don’t know if the penny cured the wart, if it was the power of suggestion, or if it just went away on its own, as warts sometimes do. But I thought then, and still do: my dad knows stuff.

My father grew up in the Ozarks and knows folk remedies for certain ailments, including wart-on-foot. Today, the rub-a-penny-on-it treatment would fall under the umbrella of “complementary and alternative medicine,” or “CAM,” which includes any healing method that is not considered standard western medicine. We have all used these: herbal teas, honey and lemon for a sore throat, chicken soup, massage. Complementary medicine means treatments used alongside standard treatments to enhance healing or reduce symptoms, such as acupuncture to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. Integrative medicine is the combination of both standard and nonstandard methods in approaching the treatment of disease.

At the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County, our clients frequently explore complementary and alternative therapies as a way to reduce the physical side effects of cancer treatment or cope with the emotional stress of having cancer. We have an entire shelf in our resource lending libraries devoted to alternative medicine, with books on topics such as yoga and cancer, healthy cooking through cancer, mindfulness and meditation.

We also have a book in our library called “Herbs Against Cancer,” by Ralph Moss, PhD, with beautiful botanical illustrations on the cover. It’s a fascinating examination of the medical anthropology behind many claims of plant-based cancer cures, including “The Grape Cure,” (chapter 8) which surveys and debunks some fantastic claims of cancer cures based on the healing properties of grapes. Dr. Moss’ book contains this muted cautionary statement: “I hope you will share my boundless enthusiasm for herbs. However, please do not neglect treatments that are well proven to increase overall survival.”

There are modern opportunists and hucksters with “cures” for cancer, as there have been throughout human history; what is different today is that these people can now reach an audience of millions via the internet. While every adult of sound mind has the right to accept or decline medical treatment, that right comes with the responsibility to make well-reasoned choices based on the best information and research.

Cancer treatment is getting better and better. The last few years have seen the introduction of precision medicine, targeted therapies, and immunotherapy. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer deaths in the US have declined 27% in the last 25 years. Many cancers, found early, have an excellent prognosis for cure, but delaying recommended treatment to see if an alternative therapy will work gives a cancer time to grow and spread.

There is a rule that applies to life as well as medicine, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” You are loved. Your family and friends want you around. Cancer is different than a wart on your foot. Yes, my dad knows stuff, but there is no Ozark remedy for cancer.

This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge. CRC’s cancer awareness and prevention series is sponsored by the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency.