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Therapies outside the realm of conventional medical methods that are promoted to relieve cancer symptoms. Alternative practices are used instead of conventional treatments and methods; complementary practices are used in conjunction with conventional treatments and methods. Some therapies and remedies may be either alternative or complementary, depending on how they are used. Because some cancer treatment protocols are very precise, it is important to discuss alternative and complementary approaches with the oncologist before using them.
Complementary therapies are often effective for treating symptoms related to cancer and discomforts related to conventional cancer treatment. acupuncture, biofeedback, and hypnosis can provide relief from pain and nausea. yoga, tai chi, and meditation provide relaxation and stress relief. Some therapies, such as acupuncture and biofeedback, have undergone clinical research studies that support their effectiveness and usefulness. Most complementary therapies integrate well with conventional treatments.
Some herbal remedies, such as products for nausea or relaxation, may interact with chemotherapy drugs.
Alternative remedies for cancer are approaches to treat cancer that have not been proven effective through conventional research studies; some have been proven ineffective. Alternative therapies may include health-care systems that differ in philosophy and practice from conventional Western medicine, such as ayurveda, homeopathy, and traditional chinese medicine (TCM). Alternative remedies may also consist of conventional treatments used in unproven or disproven ways; most have either not been subjected to conventional research study or have been disproved. Some alternative remedies are potentially harmful in themselves as well as for the delay they may cause in receiving conventional treatments that could have health benefits.
Making Choices and Decisions
Choices and decisions in regard to treatment for cancer are not easy to make, particularly when the diagnosis comes after the cancer is fairly advanced or has metastasized. Emotions are high, and sometimes the route of conventional treatment has little to offer beyond palliative care. Alternative remedies may make claims that sound too good to pass up. Cancer experts urge people to fully explore the remedy and the evidence that surrounds its usefulness. These key questions can help put the claims of the therapy or remedy in perspective:
- What does the remedy do-specifically? How does it affect the cancer?
- Does the remedy claim to be able to replace or support medical treatments?
- Who administers or provides the remedy?
- What are the remedy’s possible side effects?
- What is the cost of the remedy?
- Is the remedy available in the United States?
- What kinds of research have tested the remedy?
Unfortunately, many purported cancer remedies are ineffective at best and potentially harmful. In some circumstances those who are marketing the remedy sincerely believe in its ability to treat or even cure cancer.
However, the market for alternative remedies also offers abundant opportunity for fraud. Complementary therapies that supplement conventional treatment can provide comfort and relief from many symptoms related to cancer and cancer treatment. Choosing an ineffective alternative remedy in lieu of conventional treatment may have irreversible consequences for health and for quality of life.
Information About Alternative Remedies
An oncologist or credentialed cancer care center can provide information and guidance for choosing complementary therapies that are helpful. The Web sites for the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), the US National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (www.cancer.gov/cam), and the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (nccam.nih.gov) provide current information about alternative remedies and complementary therapies for cancer.