Using a Complementary or Alternative Method Is Your Decision

It’s common to find much less high-quality, objective information about complementary and alternative methods than 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 even how safe it might be. That’s why you should try to learn about a treatment before you use it. Even if some information isn’t available, the limitations of what is known can help you make your decision.

The choice to use complementary or alternative methods is yours. You can use them more safely if you:

  • Learn about the risks and benefits of each therapy from reliable scientific sources.
  • Talk with your doctor about your plans. Ask about risks and benefits and find out about possible interactions with mainstream treatments.
  • Ask your doctor or cancer care team to refer you to someone who is reliable and trusted if you need a practitioner for your non-mainstream treatment (such as for massage therapy).
  • Talk with your doctor before you use a self-prescribed remedy instead of the medicine your doctor prescribed.
  • Know for sure whether you are giving up proven treatment for an unproven one. (If you decide to do this, ask your doctor beforehand what options might still work for you if the alternative treatment fails.)
  • Don’t give up a proven treatment for one that has been disproven. (Disproven treatments are different from unproven treatments, which may not been studied. Disproven methods have been studied and found not to work.)
  • Watch out for signs of fraud or misleading claims.
  • Keep in mind that most complementary and alternative methods have not been tested for safety in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding – effects on a fetus or nursing child are mostly unknown.
  • Talk with your child’s doctor before giving supplements or other remedies to your child.

To learn more about any treatment, please call us to find out what information we have to help you make your decision, or visit our website at

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: March 31, 2015

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