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Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Cancer

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

  • Scientifically tested

  • Found to be safe and effective

  • Approved by the FDA

Sometimes, doctors may also recommend some alternative therapies. These therapies may be used to complement, or complete, a treatment plan.

This type of medicine includes the following:

  • 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 without recommended standard treatment.

What is thought to be complementary and alternative medicine often 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 include:

  • Hypnosis

  • Massage

  • Herbs

  • Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Acupuncture

  • Dietary supplements

  • Naturopathy

  • Guided imagery 

  • Cleansing enemas

  • Chinese or Ayurvedic medicine

Things to think about

Most complementary and alternative medicine fields are not standardized or controlled by any standard medical guidelines. You should talk with your doctor before beginning 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 therapy, you should:

  • Talk with your doctor.

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

  • Use the Internet to do research.

  • 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 is better to avoid any treatment with the following warning signs:

  • It is based on unproven theories.

  • It promises or guarantees a cure.

  • It is 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.

  • Those who provide the treatment discount standard or conventional medicine and/or tell the patient not to use standard or conventional medicine.

Online Medical Reviewer: Levin, Mark, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ziegler, Olivia, MS, PA
Date Last Reviewed: 1/18/2016
© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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Our web site is designed to provide general information to educate users about programs and services, which may be available through our hospitals. The web site is not intended to provide medical advice nor should the information be used to attempt to determine the presence, absence or severity of any illness or medical condition which may be perceived or experienced by the user of this site. If you have or suspect you may have an illness or condition which you believe requires medical attention, we recommend you call your primary care physician. If you believe you are experiencing a medical emergency please call "911" (or your local medical emergency number) or seek immediate care from the nearest hospital Emergency Department. The provision of information to users of this web site is not intended as an inducement or to otherwise influence a person's decision to order or receive any item or service from a particular provider, practitioner or supplier that is reimbursable under Medicare, a state healthcare program (e.g., AHCCS) or any other healthcare plan.

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