Complementary and alternative medicines

Often, people with cancer seek out complementary and alternative therapies. Many people feel it gives them a greater sense of control over their illness, and that it’s ‘natural’ and low-risk, or they just want to try everything that seems promising.

Complementary therapies include massage, meditation, acupuncture and other relaxation methods, which are used along with medical treatments.

Alternative therapies are unproven remedies, including some herbal and dietary remedies, which are used instead of medical treatment. Some of these have been tested scientifically and found not to be effective, or even to be harmful.

Some complementary therapies are useful in helping people to cope with the challenges of having cancer and cancer treatment. However, some alternative therapies are harmful, especially if:

  • you use them instead of medical treatment

  • you use herbs or other remedies that make your medical treatment less effective.

Be aware that a lot of unproven remedies are advertised on the internet and elsewhere without any control or regulation. Before choosing an alternative remedy, you may wish to discuss it with your doctor or a cancer information nurse on the Cancer Information Helpline 0800 CANCER (226 237).

For more information, we recommend you read the following:

  • Complementary and Alternative Cancer Medicines: for people with cancer, their family and friends (booklet)

  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine (Information Sheet)

You can find out about what scientific research has been done into specific herbs, supplements and other products on the Memorial Sloan-Kettering website. The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicines (NCCAM) and Quack-watch are also a reliable websites.

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