How Alternative and Complementary Therapies Can Work Alongside Traditional Cancer Treatment


When you hear the words “cancer treatment” you probably think of chemotherapy or radiation.  Most people do because chemotherapy and radiation are the most common forms of cancer treatment.  This is because they have been proven to be effective at reducing or eliminating cancer from the body.  While they are incredibly harsh, they are often necessary.  But, chemotherapy and radiation are not the only treatment options and they do not have to stand alone.  Depending on a patient’s specific diagnosis, physicians may recommend a variety of treatments and even holistic approaches to care.  Doctors want to cure you but they also want to ensure that your whole body’s health is considered.  Alternative and complementary cancer treatments can work wonderfully with things like chemotherapy and radiation to provide the best approach to care for a patient and their individual needs.

It is no secret that chemotherapy and radiation are harsh, chemical-filled and hold their own unique risks separate from the cancer they are treating.  But, the benefits may outweigh the risks and that is why they are used with such frequency.  Complementary and alternative treatments may work independent of chemotherapy and radiation or alongside it, depending on diagnosis and specific treatment plans from physicians.  The American Cancer Society describes complementary and alternative therapies for cancer patients, “Complementary and alternative are terms used to describe many kinds of products, practices, and systems that are not part of mainstream medicine. You may hear them used to refer to methods to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life during cancer treatment. We call these “complementary” because they are used along with your medical treatment. You may sometimes hear them when discussing methods that claim to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer. We call these “alternative” because they are used instead of proven medical treatments. You may not hear about these treatments from your doctor or cancer team, but others may talk about things like traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture, hypnosis, or machines that are supposed to find or cure cancer. Some people may recommend “body cleansing” with enemas or detoxification diets with special foods and preparation methods.”

Complementary and alternative therapies are often used to help reduce or relieve side effects from more mainstream forms of cancer treatment.  It is always important to consult your physician before adding any new therapies to your treatment plan and, often, physician’s may have additional suggestions of forms of complementary and alternatives treatments that may be right for your individual circumstances.  It is important to weigh the potential benefits with the cost and time involved with complementary and alternatives therapies.  What works well for one may not work at all for someone else.  Additionally, a placebo effect may occur in which no real improvement occurs but a perceived one encourages an individual to keep going in spite of cost and time spent.  If you find something that works well and genuinely relieves symptoms and that is approved by your physician then, by all means, you should do it.  There is much hope in complementary and alternative therapies and their value and place should not be discounted.  But, more studies are needed to provide specific supported evidence of which therapies have been proven to work well.


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