Childhood Leukemia Overview

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Treating Leukemia in Children TOPICS

Complementary and alternative therapies for childhood leukemia

When your child has leukemia you are likely to hear about ways to treat his or her cancer or relieve symptoms that your doctor hasn’t mentioned. Everyone from friends and family to Internet groups and websites may offer ideas for what might help. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

What are complementary and alternative therapies?

It can be confusing because not everyone uses these terms the same way, and they are used to refer to many different methods. We use complementary to refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment.

Complementary methods: Most complementary treatment methods are not offered as cures for cancer. Mainly, they are used to help people feel better. Some examples of methods used along with regular treatment are: art therapy or play therapy to reduce stress, acupuncture to help relieve pain, or peppermint tea to relieve nausea. Some complementary methods are known to help, while others have not been tested. Some have been proven not to be helpful, and a few are even harmful.

Alternative treatments: Alternative treatments may be offered as cancer cures. These treatments have not been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. Some of these methods may be harmful, or have life-threatening side effects. But the biggest danger in most cases is that your child may lose the chance to be helped by standard medical treatment. Delays or interruptions in your child’s medical treatments may give the cancer more time to grow and make it less likely that treatment will help.

Finding out more

It is easy to see why parents who have children with cancer think about alternative methods. You want to do all you can to help fight the cancer, and the idea of a treatment with no few or no side effects sounds great. Sometimes medical treatments like chemotherapy can be hard to take, or they may no longer be working. But the truth is that most of these alternative methods have not been tested and proven to work in treating cancer.

As you think about your child’s options, here are 3 important steps you can take:

  • Look for red flags that suggest fraud. Does the method promise to cure all or most cancers? Are you told not to use regular medical treatments? Is the treatment a “secret” that requires you to take your child to certain providers or to another country?
  • Talk to your child’s doctor or nurse about any method you are thinking of using.
  • Contact us at 1-800-227-2345 to learn more about complementary and alternative methods in general and to find out about the specific methods you are looking at. You can also read about them in the complementary and alternative medicine section of our website.

The choice is yours

You always have a say in how your child’s cancer is treated. If you want to consider a non-standard treatment, learn all you can about the method and talk to your child’s doctor about it. With good information and the support of your child’s health care team, you may be able to safely use the methods that can help your child while avoiding those that could be harmful.


Last Medical Review: 11/11/2013
Last Revised: 02/03/2014