Complementary and alternative medicine is a group of diverse medical practices that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. There are two types of alternative therapy:
- Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine.
- Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.
Complementary and alternative therapies may include dietary supplements, megadose vitamins, herbal preparations, special teas, acupuncture, massage therapy, magnet therapy, spiritual healing and meditation.
Because less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods, it is important that they undergo the same rigorous scientific testing as conventional medicine. A small number of therapies originally considered to be purely alternative approaches are finding a place in cancer treatment—not as cures, but as complementary therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example is acupuncture, which has been found to help manage chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and to control pain associated with surgery.
Cancer patients using or considering complementary or alternative therapy should discuss this decision with their doctor or nurse, as they would any therapeutic approach. Some complementary and alternative therapies may interfere with standard treatment or may be harmful when used with conventional treatment. It is also a good idea to become informed about the therapy, including whether the results of scientific studies support the claims that are made for it.
Some questions to discuss with your doctor:
- What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
- What are the risks associated with this therapy?
- Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
- What side effects can be expected?
- Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
- Is this therapy part of a clinical trial? If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
- Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?