Bioelectromagnetically Based Therapies

Key Points

  • Pulsed electromagnetic fields are used therapeutically in medicine, showing enhanced healing of bone fractures and stimulation of bone formation.
  • The use of electromagnetic fields in cancer is still in preclinical stages.
  • Lab and animal studies have found both beneficial and harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on cancer.
  • Some researchers suggest that electromagnetic field therapy has potential use in decreasing the amount of chemotherapy required and providing an alternative for dealing with chemotherapy resistance.

Bioelectromagnetically based therapies “involve the unconventional use of electromagnetics, such as pulsed fields, magnetic fields, or alternating current or direct current fields.”1

Research in bioelectromagnetics focuses both on the potentially carcinogenic effects of environmental exposure to electromagnetic fields—such as those generated by power lines or cell phones—and on beneficial therapeutic effects. Pulsed electromagnetic fields are commonly used therapeutically in medicine, showing enhanced healing of bone fractures and stimulation of bone formation.2 Research on therapeutic electromagnetic field effects on cancer is still in preclinical stages.

Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Measuring Bioelectromagnetic Fields

Medical systems such as Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine have for centuries embraced the concept that electromagnetic fields underlie the pattern and organization of biological systems. In recent history, several researchers have attempted to show the existence of these fields in living organisms.

Studies between the 1940s and 1970s found evidence of certain electromagnetic patterns that seem to allow for atypical growth of cells in humans. However, one of the lead researchers was strongly criticized for his work in this field, and others have not pursued this track of study in cancer patients.3

For a more thorough description of measurement of the electromagnetic fields in living organisms, see chapter 15 of Abrams’ and Weil’s book, Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition.

According to TRC Natural Medicines, insufficient reliable evidence is available to rate the effectiveness of magnets in cancer.4

Regarding electromagnetic fields, lab and animal studies have found the following effects—both beneficial and harmful—of electromagnetic fields on cancer:

  • Inhibit tumor growth and angiogenesis5
  • Enhance tumor growth6
  • Reverse resistance to chemotherapy and enhance effectiveness of chemotherapy. Some researchers suggest that electromagnetic field therapy has potential use in decreasing the amount of chemotherapy required and providing an alternative for dealing with chemotherapy resistance.7

Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

Clinical Evidence

Pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF): Several studies and reviews show reduced pain, opioid use and inflammation after surgery.8

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): A review and meta-analysis showed reduced blood levels of proinflammatory cytokines,9 and a clinical trial found reduced pain intensity, lower opioid use and fewer requests for chest radiographs after coronary artery bypass surgery.10 A review found improved postoperative pain in urology patients.11

Electroacupuncture: Randomized trials showed evidence of reduced nausea, vomiting and pain after thoracic surgery.12

Transcutaneous electrical acupoint stimulation (TEAS): A randomized study found that TEAS use with general anesthesia led to stable blood pressure during surgery, reduced analgesic use and better pain relief compared to general anesthesia alone..13

Magnetic devices: One preliminary study of the effectiveness of a magnetic device for breast cancer-related hot flashes showed that the magnet therapy was significantly less effective than a placebo device in reducing hot flash frequency and interference with daily activities and improving quality of life.14 In other words, the placebe (no treatment) was better than the magnet therapy.

Cautions

Some evidence from phase I human clinical trials shows that electromagnetic field therapy used with chemotherapy is safe and has minimal toxicity.15

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and reviewed by Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on June 24, 2018. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research of bioelectromagnetically based therapies. This summary draws from the article by Lutgendorf, Mullen-Houser and Deumic and other sources as noted.

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