Cancer Facts :
Complementary and Alternative Methods in Cancer Treatment
Q and A About Complementary and Alternative
Medicine in Cancer Treatment
1. What is complementary and alternative
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) --
also referred to as integrative medicine -- includes a broad range of healing
philosophies, approaches, and therapies. A therapy is generally called
complementary when it is used in addition to conventional treatments; it is
often called alternative when it is used instead of conventional treatment.
(Conventional treatments are those that are widely accepted and practiced by
the mainstream medical community.) Depending on how they are used, some
therapies can be considered either complementary or alternative.
Complementary and alternative therapies are
used in an effort to prevent illness, reduce stress, prevent or reduce side
effects and symptoms, or control or cure disease. Some commonly used methods
of complementary or alternative therapy include mind/body control
interventions such as visualization or relaxation, manual healing including
acupressure and massage, homeopathy, vitamins or herbal products, and
2. Are complementary and alternative cancer
therapies widely used?
Although there are few studies on the use of
complementary and alternative therapies for cancer, one large-scale study
found that the percentage of cancer patients in the United States using these
therapies was nine percent overall (Lerner and Kennedy, 1992).
3. Can complementary and alternative medicine
be evaluated using the same methods used in conventional medicine?
Scientific evaluation is important in
understanding if and when complementary and alternative therapies work. A
number of medical centers are evaluating complementary and alternative
therapies by developing scientific studies to test them.
Conventional approaches to cancer treatment
have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through a rigorous
scientific process, including clinical trials with large numbers of patients.
Often, less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and
alternative methods. Some of these complementary and alternative therapies
have not undergone rigorous evaluation. Others, once considered unorthodox,
are finding a place in cancer treatment -- not as cures, but as complementary
therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example
is acupuncture. According to a panel of experts at a National Institutes of
Health Consensus Conference in November 1997, acupuncture has been found to be
effective in the management of chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and
in controlling pain associated with surgery. Some approaches, such as
laetrile, have been studied and found ineffective or potentially harmful.
4. What should patients do when considering
complementary and alternative therapies?
Cancer patients considering complementary and
alternative medicine should discuss this decision with their doctor or nurse,
as they would any therapeutic approach, because some complementary and
alternative therapies may interfere with their standard treatment or may be
harmful when used with conventional treatment.
5. When considering complementary and
alternative therapies, what questions should patients ask their health care
* What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
* What are the risks associated with this therapy?
* Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
* What side effects can be expected?
* Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
* Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?
6. How can patients and their health care
providers learn more about complementary and alternative therapies?
Patients and their doctor or nurse can learn about complementary and
alternative therapies from the following Government agencies:
* The NIH National Center for
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(NCCAM) facilitates research
and evaluation of complementary and
alternative practices and has
information about a variety of
Post Office Box 8218
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8218
1-888-644-6226 (toll free)
Web site: http://altmed.od.nih.gov/nccam/
* The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
regulates drugs and medical
devices to ensure that they
are safe and effective.
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Web site: http://www.fda.gov/
* The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
enforces consumer protection laws.
available from the FTC include:
Sources of Information About Health Care Products and
Claims: Don't Be Fooled"
Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
Sixth Street &
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20580
Web site: http://www.ftc.gov/
Cassileth B, Chapman C. Alternative and
Complementary Cancer Therapies. Cancer 1996; 77(6):1026-1033.
Jacobs J. Unproven Alternative Methods of
Cancer Treatment. In: DeVita, Hellman, Rosenberg, editors. Cancer: Principles
and Practice of Oncology. 5th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven
Publishers; 1997. 2993-3001.
Lerner IJ, Kennedy BJ. The Prevalence of
Questionable Methods of Cancer Treatment in the United States. CA-A Cancer
Nelson W. Alternative Cancer Treatments.
Highlights in Oncology Practice 1998; 15(4):85-93.