How Do I Talk to My Doctor About Alternative Medicine?

Many people with cancer are afraid to discuss alternative treatments with their cancer care team. It’s true that many health care providers may not know about the uses, risks, and potential benefits of alternative treatments. You can help bridge the gap in a number of ways:

  • Look for information from respected sources that you can trust regarding the potential benefits and risks of the treatment you are thinking about.
  • If you’re thinking of an alternative treatment, let the doctor know what you’re considering. Ask the doctor about any studies on this method, and what options you might still have if the alternative treatment doesn’t work.
  • Make a list of questions and bring it with you, along with any other information you want to talk about. Ask your doctor to be a supportive partner as you learn more about other options and your treatment process.
  • Bring a friend or family member with you to the doctor’s office to support you. Your loved one can also help you talk with your cancer team and relieve some of the stress of having to make decisions alone.
  • Listen to what the cancer care team has to say, and try to understand their point of view. If the treatment you’re thinking about might cause problems with your medical treatment, discuss safer choices together.
  • Don’t delay or skip regular treatment without letting your cancer care team know. If you’re thinking about stopping or not taking mainstream treatment, talk to your doctor about this. Even though you may be choosing not to use proven treatments for your cancer, this is still your choice to make.
  • Be sure to ask your doctor if there are mainstream methods for treating the side effects or symptoms you’re having during and after your treatment. There are many standard supportive treatments that can help you feel better.
  • If you’re taking dietary supplements, make a complete list of what you’re taking and the amount of each. Many supplements can interact in harmful ways with cancer medicines (or other medicines), so talk with your doctor and pharmacist about your supplements and medicines. Report any changes in your supplement use to your health care team.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask about the risks and effects of alternative methods.
  • Never give herbal medicines to children without talking to their doctors first.
  • Ask your doctor to help you identify possible fraud and questionable treatments.

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.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Integrative Medicine. Cancer.net. Accessed from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/integrative-medicine on April 20, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Cancer.gov. Last updated November 24, 2020. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam on April 6, 2021.

National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Health Information for Patients. Cam.cancer.gov. Accessed from  https://cam.cancer.gov/health_information/for_patients.htm on August 18, 2021. 

References

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Integrative Medicine. Cancer.net. Accessed from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/integrative-medicine on April 20, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Cancer.gov. Last updated November 24, 2020. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam on April 6, 2021.

National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Health Information for Patients. Cam.cancer.gov. Accessed from  https://cam.cancer.gov/health_information/for_patients.htm on August 18, 2021. 

Last Revised: August 30, 2021

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