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Complementary and integrative are terms used to describe many kinds of products and practices that are not part of standard medical care but may be used by people with cancer to better manage cancer-related symptoms and side effects.
Complementary methods are different from alternative treatments. While complementary methods are meant to be used with and support standard treatments, alternative methods are used instead of standard treatments.
Treatments that are not used in mainstream medicine -- including complementary and alternative therapies -- may be described as unconventional, non-conventional, or non-traditional by mainstream medical doctors. Some treatments, such as traditional Chinese medicine or Native American healing, might also be considered complementary or alternative therapies. Of course, to the person who is part of the culture practicing these treatments, their native methods are usually called traditional, while Western medicine is the non-traditional way.
People with cancer might think about using complementary methods for a number of reasons:
Complementary methods may be appealing because they use your own body, your own mind, or things found in nature. And most complementary methods rarely cause harm.
It's important to learn as much as possible about a treatment before you use it. But be aware that the information available about many complementary methods often includes less high-quality research than what is available about mainstream treatments. This is one of the reasons that it is sometimes impossible to say much about whether a complementary method is likely to help you, or how safe it might be. Even if only limited information is available, understanding the limits of what is known can help you make your decision.
The choice to use complementary or integrative methods is yours. You can use them more safely if you:
You can find more information about specific types of complementary and integrative methods on the National Cancer Institute website, www.cancer.gov.
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.
Last Revised: August 25, 2021
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