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Pancreatic Cancer and Alternative Medicine

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Updated September 24, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Located deep in your abdomen, the pancreas is an organ that contains two types of glands: the exocrine glands (responsible for producing juice that helps you break down food) and endocrine glands (which release hormones that help regulate blood sugar).

In the United States, pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death.

Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer

While early pancreatic cancer often has no symptoms, signs of later-stage pancreatic cancer can include:

  • yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • dark urine
  • pain the upper abdomen and back
  • weakness and fatigue
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weight loss
  • Causes

    Most cases of pancreatic cancer occur in people over 60. More men than women are diagnosed with the disease. Although the cause of pancreatic cancer is unknown, risk factors may include:

  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • chronic pancreatitis
  • family history of pancreatic cancer
  • Treatment

    Because early-stage pancreatic cancer tends not to cause symptoms, and because the pancreas is hidden behind other organs, it can be extremely difficult to detect the disease before it spreads. While later-stage pancreatic cancer can't be cured, certain medical treatments (such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation) may help control the disease.

    Alternative Medicine for Pancreatic Cancer

    It's crucial to consult your doctor if you're considering using any form of alternative medicine in treatment of pancreatic cancer. You may also wish to speak with your physician about using alternative therapies such as massage and acupuncture to help cope with pancreatic cancer and any adverse effects of your cancer treatment.

    Although there are no natural substances known to help treat pancreatic cancer, preliminary research suggests that these herbal remedies show promise in slowing the growth of the disease:

    1) Triphala

    A popular remedy in ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), triphala is a formula containing the dried and powdered fruits of three medical plants: amla (Emblica officinalis), myrobalan (Terminalia chebula), and belleric myrobalan (Terminalia belerica). In a test-tube study published in 2008, researchers discovered that triphala helped inhibit the growth of human pancreatic cancer cells.

    2) Nigella sativa

    Another remedy used in ayurveda, Nigella sativa (also known as black cumin or black caraway) was found to slow up the development of pancreatic cancer in a test-tube study published in 2009. The study's findings indicate that thymoquinone (a compound found in Nigella sativa) may help fight pancreatic cancer by reducing inflammation.

    Preventing Pancreatic Cancer

    There's no known way to prevent pancreatic cancer. However, the following may help reduce your risk:

  • quitting smoking
  • following a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • getting regular exercise
  • Sources:

    Chehl N, Chipitsyna G, Gong Q, Yeo CJ, Arafat HA. "Anti-inflammatory effects of the Nigella sativa seed extract, thymoquinone, in pancreatic cancer cells." HPB (Oxford). 2009;11(5):373-81.

    Shi Y, Sahu RP, Srivastava SK. "Triphala inhibits both in vitro and in vivo xenograft growth of pancreatic tumor cells by inducing apoptosis." BMC Cancer 2008 10;8:294.

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