Complementary and Alternative Medicine

What does ‘complementary and alternative medicine or integrative medicine’ mean?

The Cancer Council NSW defines the terms:

Complementary Therapies Supportive treatments that are used in conjunction with conventional treatment. They improve general health, well-being and quality of life, and help people cope with side effects of cancer.

Alternative Therapies Therapies that are used in place of conventional treatment, often in the hope that they will provide a cure.

Integrative Medicine (Integrative Therapies) The use of both evidence-based complementary therapies and conventional medicine.

We know from research studies conducted in Australia that lots of people use Complementary and Alternative Medicine or CAMs and many people take vitamin or nutritional supplements. Cancer patients often consider these treatments or vitamin supplements, and friends and family may urge you to try them. Because there are so many different kinds of treatments, lifestyle changes and tablets that fall within this category we can’t give you specific advice about them, but there are three general points we can agree:

  1. Please make sure you tell your treating team about any CAM you are using including any vitamins or minerals you are taking. It’s best to bring in the package if it is some kind of pill or herbal mixture. Your team is happy to discuss these issues with you at any stage in your cancer journey.

  2. We advise you not to use extra pills, herbal medicines, nutritional supplements or vitamins during your chemotherapy, partly because we have no way of knowing if there will be an adverse reaction to mixing them with the chemotherapy, and partly because there is research that shows that some supplements (vitamins for example) can neutralise the chemotherapy, making it less effective.

  3. When having radiotherapy do not use anything on the skin in the area being treated, unless your treating team has recommended it. Some oils and skin lotions can make the radiation more likely to irritate the skin.

Cancer Institute NSW stresses the importance of asking questions about the complementary therapies you are interested in. This will help you make informed decisions on the kinds of complementary therapies that would be of benefit and be safe for you.

The Cancer Institute NSW has produced a research article to assist you if you are considering CAM. Read through these insights and make a note of the ones that are relevant to you to help in your discussions with complementary therapists, doctors or other health professionals.

Additional Resources

If you are interested in finding out more on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) or Integrative Medicine there are some good, reliable resources we recommend you check out:

Cancer Council NSW

There are many reasons why people with cancer consider using complementary therapies, which are generally used in combination with conventional cancer treatment. They may offer you physical, emotional and spiritual support, reduce side effects from medical treatment, and improve quality of life. This information provides an overview of the role of complementary therapies in cancer care.

Click Here

Cancer Institute NSW

No longer a collection of covert practices, complementary therapies today are highly visible, and information about them is widely available to the general public. Their use is increasing in Australia with many people with cancer using complementary therapies on a regular basis.

Click Here

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre

About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products

This site provides objective information for oncologists and healthcare professionals, including a clinical summary for each agent and details about constituents, adverse effects, interactions, and potential benefits or problems. Evaluations of alternative or unproved cancer therapies, as well as products for sexual dysfunction are included. It is important to ask your doctor or another qualified professional about possible interactions with your specific medications before taking any supplements.

This information provides evidence-based information about herbs, botanicals, supplements, and more.

To find out more Click Here

National Cancer Institute USA

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. "Complementary medicine" refers to treatments that are used with standard treatment. "Alternative medicine" refers to treatments that are used instead of standard treatment.Standard treatments are based on scientific evidence from research studies. While claims made by CAM treatment providers about their benefits can sound promising, we do not know how safe many CAM treatments are or how well they work. Studies are under way to determine the safety and usefulness of many cancer-related CAM practices.

To find out more