How Do I Talk to My Doctor About Complementary and Integrative Methods?

Many people with cancer are afraid to discuss complementary and integrative methods with their cancer care team. Some providers may not know all about the uses, risks, and potential benefits of these treatments. But this shouldn't stop you from talking to your cancer care team. Here are some tips to help with this conversation:

  • Look for information from respected, trustworthy sources about the potential benefits and risks of the treatment you are thinking about.
  • When you share this information with your cancer care team, try to do it in a way that shows you know that your team wants what’s best for you. Let them know that you are thinking about a complementary treatment and that you want to make sure it won’t interfere with your regular medical treatment.
  • 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 your appointment 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.
  • To help ensure you're aware of all of your options, ask your team if there are mainstream methods for treating the side effects or symptoms you’re having during and after your treatment. There are many supportive medical treatments that can make you feel better.
  • If you’re already 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 possible risks and side effects of complementary methods.
  • Never give herbal medicines to children without talking to their doctors first.

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. Last updated June 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/integrative-medicine
on April 20, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 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. Accessed at https://cam.cancer.gov/health_information/for_patients.htm on August 18, 2021.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Are You Considering a Complementary Health Approach? Last updated September 2016. Accessed at https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/are-you-considering-a-complementary-health-approach on April 9, 2021. 

References

American Society of Clinical Oncology. Integrative Medicine. Last updated June 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/integrative-medicine
on April 20, 2021.

National Cancer Institute. Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 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. Accessed at https://cam.cancer.gov/health_information/for_patients.htm on August 18, 2021.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Are You Considering a Complementary Health Approach? Last updated September 2016. Accessed at https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/are-you-considering-a-complementary-health-approach on April 9, 2021. 

Last Revised: August 25, 2021

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