Children's Oncology Group Looks at CAM

Excerpts from CureSearch (National Childhood Cancer Foundation):

Kara Kelly, M.D. takes a look at "complementary" therapies

Dr. Kara Kelly is co-chair of the Complementary Therapies Committee of the Children's Oncology Group (COG).

At the recent meeting of the Children's Oncology Group (COG), the co-chairs of the Complementary Therapies Committee walked into the small room they had booked for their session. It was "standing room only."

That is just one indication of the rising level of attention being paid to dietary changes, herbs, nutritional supplements, mind-body techniques therapies which may be "complementary" to conventional cancer treatment.

A recent study at Columbia University, where Dr. Kelly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, found that 85% of cancer patients are using some form of complementary therapy in addition to their doctor-prescribed treatments, and that only 50% are telling their doctors about it.

"This finding underscored our need to look into these therapies further," says Dr. Kelly.

The Children's Oncology Group has recently initiated its first research study to test the effectiveness of a complementary therapy.

Carnitine, labeled a "dietary supplement" by the FDA, is available in health food stores, and is sometimes used by weight lifters. It is also an effective therapy for a rare type of congenital heart problem.

Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a pediatric cardiologist at the University of Rochester, is the principal investigator on a study of children receiving high levels of chemotherapy for Ewing's Sarcoma. Utilizing sensitive markers for heart damage, he will assess the effects of carnitine on these patients.

According to Dr. Kelly, many patients ask about the herb Milk Thistle. Columbia University has begun a multi-institutional pilot study to look at the possibility that it might protect the liver from toxicity during treatments for leukemia.

She hopes to study it further through COG, if the initial results are promising.

And later on, she would like to study that favorite healthy snack food, yogurt, to see if the lactobacillus in yogurt helps reduce the side effect of diarrhea which occurs during some chemotherapy regimens.

Since the merger of the four cooperative childhood cancer research groups into one -- the Children's Oncology Group -- a larger number of pediatric patients is now available for cancer studies. That has led to increased interest in studying these complementary therapies.

They may prove to be valuable additions to --- never replacements for -- conventional and proven treatment techniques for childhood cancer.

Another important objective of the Complementary Therapies Committee is simply to open up communication, so that parents will be more at ease in mentioning to their child's doctor alternative therapies they are using or considering.


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