Complementary and alternative therapies for advanced cancer
When you have cancer you are likely to hear about ways to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms that your doctor hasn’t mentioned. Everyone from friends and family to Internet groups and websites may offer ideas on what might help you. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
What exactly are complementary and alternative therapies?
Not everyone uses these terms the same way, and they are used to refer to many different methods, so it can be confusing. We use complementary to refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment.
Complementary methods: Most complementary treatment methods are not offered as cures for cancer. Mainly, they are used to help you feel better. Some methods that are used along with regular treatment are meditation to reduce stress, acupuncture to help relieve pain, or peppermint tea to relieve nausea. Some complementary methods are known to help, while others have not been tested. Some have been proven not to be helpful, and a few have even been found harmful.
Alternative treatments: Alternative treatments may be offered as cancer cures. These treatments have not been proven safe and effective in clinical trials. Some of these methods may pose danger, or have life-threatening side effects. But the biggest danger in most cases is that you may lose the chance to be helped by standard medical treatment. Delays or interruptions in your medical treatments may give the cancer time to grow and make it less likely that treatment will help.
Finding out more
It’s easy to see why people with cancer think about alternative methods. You want to do all you can to fight the cancer, and the idea of a treatment with few or no side effects sounds great. Sometimes medical treatments like chemotherapy can be hard to take, or they may no longer be working. But the truth is that most of these alternative methods have not been tested and proven to work in treating cancer.
As you consider your options, here are 3 important steps you can take:
- Look for “red flags” that suggest fraud. Does the method promise to cure all or most cancers? Are you told not to have regular medical treatments? Is the treatment a “secret” that requires you to visit certain providers or travel to another country?
- Talk to your doctor or nurse about any method you are thinking about using.
- Contact us at 1-800-227-2345 to learn more about complementary and alternative methods in general and to find out more about the specific methods you are looking at. You can also check them out on the Complementary and Alternative Medicine page of our website.
The choice is yours
Decisions about how to treat or manage your cancer are always yours to make. If you want to use a non-standard treatment, learn all you can about it and talk to your doctor. With good information and the support of your health care team, you may be able to safely use the methods that can help you while avoiding those that could be harmful.
- Advanced Cancer
- What is advanced cancer?
- What is metastatic cancer?
- Can advanced or metastatic cancer be prevented?
- How is advanced cancer found?
- How is advanced cancer treated?
- Surgery for advanced cancer
- Ablative techniques for advanced cancer
- Radiation therapy for advanced cancer
- Drug treatment for advanced cancer
- Clinical trials
- Complementary and alternative therapies for advanced cancer
- Managing symptoms of advanced cancer, by location
- Managing general symptoms of advanced cancer
- What should you ask your doctor about advanced cancer?
- Coping with advanced cancer
- Sources of support
- Choices for palliative care
- Advance directives
- Additional resources for advanced cancer
- References: Advanced cancer
Last Medical Review: February 7, 2014 Last Revised: March 6, 2014