Almost 40% of Americans believe cancer can be cured through alternative therapies alone, according to a survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. This is alarming because evidence shows that people who use alternative therapies in place of standard cancer treatments have much higher death rates.
The terms “alternative,” “complementary,” and “lifestyle” medicine are used to describe many kinds of products, practices, and treatments that are not part of standard or traditional medicine. Alternative therapy refers to non-standard treatment used in place of standard treatment, while complementary therapy usually means methods used along with standard treatment. Lifestyle medicine is a newer field that describes its approach as preventing and treating illness through healthy eating, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors without the use of medicine.
In some cases, complementary methods can help cancer patients feel better when used alongside standard treatment and with the advice of a health care provider. Alternative and complementary therapies are often appealing because they use your own body, your own mind, or things that may be found in nature. But sometimes these methods wrongly claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer even when they have not been proven to work through scientific testing.
And in the worst cases, some alternative or complementary therapies may be dangerous or even deadly. Some may also interfere with how standard cancer treatment works. If you’re thinking about using any non-traditional therapy, it’s important to first discuss it with your health care team.
Some of these therapies promise wellness using a method that sounds simple, wholesome, and without harmful side effects. But this is not always true. Some concerns include:
Some complementary methods have been studied and shown to help people feel better while they’re undergoing standard cancer treatment under a doctor’s care. Examples might include meditation to reduce stress, peppermint or ginger tea for nausea, or guided imagery to help relieve stress and pain during medical procedures.
Many complementary treatments are unlikely to cause harm and won’t interfere with your cancer treatment. Here are some examples:
If you are thinking about using any method instead of standard evidence-based medical treatment, it is important to talk to your health care team first. And watch out for these warning signs:
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
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