Integrative medicine for cancer treatment
When you have cancer, you want to do all you can to treat the cancer and feel better. This is why many people turn to integrative medicine. Integrative medicine (IM) refers to any type of medical practice or product that is not standard care. It includes things like acupuncture, meditation, and massage. Standard care for cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and biological therapy.
Integrative medicine is complementary care used alongside standard care. It combines the best of both types of care. IM encourages shared decision making between providers and patients. This is when patients take an active role in their care as a partner with their provider.
Note that some types of IM may help manage cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment, but none have been proven to treat cancer.
Talk With Your Doctor First
Before using any type of IM, you should talk with your health care provider first. This includes taking vitamins and other supplements. Some treatments that are usually safe can be risky for people with cancer. For example, St. John's wort can interfere with some cancer drugs. And high doses of vitamin C can affect how well radiation and chemotherapy work.
Also, not all therapies work the same for everyone. Your provider can help you decide if a specific treatment might help you rather than causing potential harm.
When IM Can Help
IM may help relieve common side effects of cancer or cancer treatment, such as fatigue, anxiety, pain, and nausea. Some cancer centers even offer these therapies as part of their care.
Many types of IM have been studied. Those that may help people with cancer include:
In general, these therapies are safe for most people and pose little health risk. But before using them, you should always ask your provider if they are safe for you.
The Limits of IM
Currently, no types of IM have been shown to help cure or treat cancer. While many products and treatments are touted as cures for cancer, there are no studies that back up these claims. Before trying any product that makes such claims, talk with your provider first. Some products can interfere with other cancer treatments.
Finding an IM Practitioner
If you want to try an IM treatment, choose your practitioner wisely. Here are some tips:
Greenlee H, Balneaves LG, Carlson LE, et al; Society for Integrative Oncology. Clinical practice guidelines on the use of integrative therapies as supportive care in patients treated for breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2014;2014(50):346-358. PMID: 25749602 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25749602.
National Cancer Institute website. Complementary and alternative medicine for patients. www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient. Updated August 30, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. Are you considering complementary medicine? nccam.nih.gov/health/decisions/consideringcam.htm. Updated September 2016. Accessed February 15, 2018.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website. 6 things you need to know about cancer and complementary health approaches. nccih.nih.gov/health/tips/cancer. Updated September 24, 2015. Accessed February 15, 2018.
Rosenthal DS, Webster A, Ladas E. Integrative therapies in patients with hematologic diseases. In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ, Silberstein LE, et al, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 156.
Review Date: 1/31/2018
Reviewed By: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. 04-16-19: Editorial update.
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