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Johns Hopkins to Study Alternative Therapies for Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer

Johns Hopkins to Study Alternative Therapies for Breast Cancer, Prostate Cancer

Can tart cherries alleviate cancer pain? Does prayer help heal African-American women with breast cancer? To answer such questions, Johns Hopkins Medicine has been awarded a 5-year, $7.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to establish a research center to study complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of cancer.

The Johns Hopkins Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) in Cancer will initially pursue four studies of alternative therapies for breast and prostate cancers, will train and educate physicians and medical students in alternative medicine and research techniques, and will review and fund pilot studies of other alternative treatments.

East Meets West

"Our aim is to reconcile scientific method with alternative medicine treatments—two areas currently in opposition in the West," said Adrian S. Dobs, md, mhs, principal investigator of the new center and associate professor of endocrinology. The Center will promote collaboration between alternative medicine and mainstream scientific communities to determine the most promising alternative treatments and the most scientific way of studying them.

Among the research projects is an evaluation of PC-SPES (a combination of eight Chinese herbs) for its ability to reduce stress (leading to oxidative DNA damage in cancer cells) and for its ability to improve the immune system in prostate cancer patients. Scientists will also study soy and sour cherries for their ability to reduce cancer pain, and investigate the impact of prayer on the health of African-American women with breast cancer. In addition, the Center plans collaborations with Johns Hopkins Singapore.

Breast and prostate cancers will be the focus of intitial studies at the Center, but Dr. Dobs believes that information gleaned from studying these cancers may be generalized to other forms of cancer.

A Lucrative Alternative

"Often patients ask their physicians about an alternative medicine treatment that they heard of, but receive little direction one way or the other because there is little scientific evidence," said Dr. Dobs, who also directs Hopkins’ Clinical Trials Unit and serves as vice chair for the department of medicine. "Then the onus is on the patient to decide, and this can be dangerous for patients." Despite the lack of scientific proof and safety data on alternative medicine treatments, Americans spent more than $27 billion on alternative therapies in 1997, exceeding out-of-pocket spending for all hospitalizations in the United States, according to a survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We have assembled a top-notch team of cutting-edge Hopkins scientists and leaders in alternative medicine, and we will proceed with an open mind and a healthy amount of skepticism," said Dr. Dobs.

The initial trials should begin in about 6 months. Those wishing to find out more about the studies or volunteer should call 410-847-3550.

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