When your child has cancer you are likely to hear about ways to treat the cancer or relieve symptoms that your doctor hasn't mentioned. Everyone from friends and family to Internet groups and Web sites 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 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 the patient feel better. Some examples of methods that are 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 shown not to help, 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 you may lose the chance to have your child helped by standard medical treatment. Delays or interruptions in 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 your child fight the cancer, and the idea of a treatment with few or no side effects sounds great. Sometimes medical treatments like chemo 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 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 have regular medical treatments? Is the treatment a "secret" that requires you to visit certain providers or travel 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 always have a say in how your child is treated. If you want to use a non-standard treatment, learn all you can about the method and talk to the doctor about it. With good information and the support of your health care team, your child may be able to safely use methods that can help while avoiding those that could be harmful.
Last Revised: 08/01/2012