Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Cancer

You or your doctor may want to try cancer treatment that are not considered conventional medicine. Conventional refers to standard medicine practiced by medical doctors. Medical doctors recommend treatments that have been:

  • Scientifically tested in clinical trials

  • Found to be safe and effective

  • Approved by the FDA

Sometimes, doctors may also recommend some other therapies. These therapies may be used to complement, or complete, a conventional treatment plan. Sometime people hear about alternative therapies and want to know if these will help.

It's important to understand the difference between these 2 types of therapy:

  • Complementary medicine. Any type of therapy used along with standard medicine. Complementary therapy usually tries to ease symptoms and improve quality of life. 

  • Alternative medicine. This is used alone or in place of without recommended standard treatment. These treatments can delay access to standard treatments that are known to help. Some of these treatments can even be harmful.

What's thought to be complementary and alternative medicine sometimes changes. This is because once those therapies are proven to be safe and effective, they become part of standard medicine.

Different types of therapies

Therapies that may be included in your treatment plan may include:

  • Hypnosis

  • Massage

  • Herbs

  • Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Acupuncture

  • Dietary supplements

  • Naturopathy

  • Guided imagery 

Things to think about

Most complementary and alternative medicine fields are not standardized or controlled by any standard medical guidelines. Talk with your doctor before trying any of these therapies. This is because some therapies may get in the way of your regular treatment.

It is important to be in-the-know when thinking about this type of medicine. Before starting any new therapy, you should:

  • Talk with your doctor.

  • Use your library to research books, articles, and scientific journals.

  • Use the Internet to do research. (Be careful of sites selling these products.)

  • Look for information on controlled, scientific studies on the therapy you are thinking about.

  • Talk with others who have actually tried the therapy.

Warning signs to look for

It's better to avoid any treatment with the following warning signs:

  • It's based on unproven theories.

  • It promises or guarantees a cure.

  • It's a secret and can be given only by certain providers.

  • It requires travel to another country.

  • The provider discounts standard medicine and/or tells you not to use standard medicine.

Working with your healthcare provider

It's best to talk with your doctor about any complementary or alternative therapy you'd like to try before spending your time and money on it. There may be ways to safely use some of these treatments, but some might cause problems if you use them along with standard treatments. Learn as much as you can so you can make the choices that are best for you.