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Learn About Complementary & Alternative Therapies©
Written by Cancer Center Staff

Source: Cancer Resource Room

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Conventional Treatment, Complementary/Alternative Therapies, and Integrated Medicine
Conventional cancer treatments are the treatments used by doctors in medical centers across the country. They have been scientifically proven to treat cancer in safe and effective ways. Examples of conventional treatments are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Complementary therapies are used together with conventional treatments. They can help to control symptoms and improve the way you feel. Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional cancer treatment to treat disease. A therapy is defined as complementary or alternative depending on how it is used—combined with conventional treatment or as a replacement for conventional treatment. Integrative therapies combine conventional treatment with complementary therapies that have been scientifically proven to be safe and effective.

Examples of complementary/alternative therapies are:

  • Reiki
  • Acupuncture
  • Homeopathy
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Massage therapy
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine
  • Special diets
  • Dietary supplements including vitamins
  • Herbal products

Make the Choice That Is Right for You
Each person’s experience with cancer is different. What is right for one person may not be right for another. Some people feel complementary therapies may help ease the side effects of cancer and its treatment. Others believe these therapies may strengthen the mind and body, and speed recovery. Others feel conventional treatment is all they need, but are pressured by family and friends to look into other options.

Whether you choose to combine complementary therapy with conventional treatment is a very personal choice. There is no right or wrong time to consider using complementary therapies. It is also fine not to consider them at all. The right choice for you is the one that makes you feel most comfortable.

Exploring the Options: How to Decide
So you want to explore complementary therapies, but do not know which ones to choose or where to begin. There is no one formula. Gaining knowledge will help you narrow the choices. Some ways to gather information are through:

  • Conversations with your healthcare team
  • Self-exploration— For example, ask yourself, “What lifestyle changes am I willing to make? What benefits am I looking for?
  • Independent research
  • Interviews with potential complementary/alternative therapy providers
  • Talking with others who have used complementary therapies

You may also want to meet with an expert in complementary/alternative medicine, especially if you are considering herbal or vitamin products. This person can work with you one-on-one to help you decide which complementary therapies are right for you. Ask your health care provider if an expert is available where you receive your care. If not, look for a facility in your area that specializes in complementary/alternative medicine.

Communication and Dialogue
Some therapies, such as relaxation techniques and music therapy, are completely risk-free. They will not cause you any harm. Others, however, might not be safe, or may make your conventional treatment less effective. If you choose to integrate complementary therapies into your treatment plan, you must discuss your choices openly, honestly and regularly with your doctor and others on your health care team. They need to be aware of all parts of your treatment plan at all times.

If you have questions about the safety and effectiveness of complementary therapies, ask your doctor and team for their thoughts and suggestions. They may have access to information or knowledge that is not available to you. If you use the services of a complementary/alternative therapy provider, you can suggest that he or she communicate with your doctor and health care team. This can be helpful, especially when questions arise. Bringing your providers together is a good way to make sure you receive the best possible care.

What's New
To Search Pub Med, please see below.
Consumer and selected health professional journals

Support & Education Programs

We know that being diagnosed with cancer can be stressful for you and your family. We offer a variety of cancer support services to help patients and families gain the support and information they will need to meet the challenges ahead.

The following complementary therapies are offered by the Cancer Center's HOPES Program and are listed in the HOPES calendar:

  • Acupuncture
  • Exercise
  • Expressive arts (art and writing)
  • Gentle yoga
  • Healing harp music
  • Humor therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Qigong
  • Reflexology
  • Relaxation massage
  • Ways to relax

The Cancer Resource Room also has information on complementary therapy topics.

Services for cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital