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You might hear about ways to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms that your doctor hasn’t mentioned. Everyone from friends and family to social media groups and websites might offer ideas for what might help you. 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?
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 a person feel better. Some examples of methods that are used along with regular treatment are meditation 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 might even be 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 you may lose the chance to be helped by standard medical treatment. Delaying or interrupting your medical treatments might give the cancer more time to grow and make it less likely that treatment will help.
Finding out more
It’s easy to see why people with cancer think about alternative methods. You want to do all you can to fight the cancer, and the idea of a treatment with 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 alternative methods have not been tested and proven to work in treating cancer.
As you think about your options, look for “red flags” that might suggest fraud. Does the method promise to cure all or most cancers? Are you told not to have regular medical treatments? Is the treatment a “secret” that requires you to visit certain providers or travel to another country? Also be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using.
You can find more tips on what to look for and how to make these decisions in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section of our website.
The choice is yours
Decisions about how to treat or manage your cancer are always yours to make. If you want to use a non-standard treatment, learn all you can about the method and talk to your doctor about it. With good information and the support of your cancer care team, you may be able to safely use the methods that can help you while avoiding those that could be harmful.
Last Medical Review: 05/01/2015
Last Revised: 05/18/2015