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The terms complementary treatment and alternative treatment are used in different ways by different people. This can lead to confusion about treatment options. Complementary treatments are typically coupled with conventional medical care. These treatments usually don’t promise a cure for any illness.
Alternative treatments are used in place of conventional care. These may suggest that they can cure a certain disease.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), 65 percent of people with cancer use complementary treatments for the disease. Using complementary approaches to manage cancer symptoms or cancer treatment side effects has shown some benefit. However, there is no compelling evidence that any complementary treatment either cures cancer or causes remission.
It’s always a good idea to discuss possible complementary or alternative treatments with your doctor before using them to see if they’re safe for you to use.
Acupuncture is a treatment in which a practitioner gently places very fine needles in certain areas of the skin. This is typically a complementary treatment. It’s thought that acupuncture triggers the nervous system and causes multiple effects throughout the body. One of the purported effects is increasing the amount of natural painkilling chemicals in the body. Other effects include reduced nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
Breastcancer.org outlines the studies that have found acupuncture to reduce nausea in patients with breast cancer. However, more research needs to be done to see the full effects.
Visualization is another term for guided imagery. It’s often used as a complementary treatment. With this treatment, a person imagines situations with sensory details to reach a goal.
Guided imagery can minimize symptoms of depression and increase positive feelings. This treatment tool can be done with a trained therapist or by yourself. CDs and smartphone apps can aid you in practicing guided imagery.
Herbal supplements may be touted as being able to reduce nausea or other symptoms, but there is a lack of scientific evidence for many of them. The evidence-based trials are not well designed, giving questionable results.
Supplements can also interfere with any medications you may be taking and cause adverse side effects. Herbal supplements are used as both a complementary and an alternative treatment.
Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal supplements.
It’s good to eat a healthy diet that feeds your body and provides you with the nutrients you need. However, beware diets that advertise their ability to cure cancer or disease, or those that suggest using high doses of vitamins, which isn’t always safe.
The Gerson diet regimen uses coffee enemas and hourly meals of crushed fruits and vegetables. Laxatives may also be part of an alternative diet treatment. Some dietary aids, like ginger or peppermint tea, have been shown to reduce nausea and are usually safe to consume.
No diet can cure cancer. If you want to make any dietary changes, your doctor can guide you to a healthy nutrition plan or recommend a nutritionist who can work with your treatment team.
A popular complementary treatment, yoga blends nutrition, meditation, and exercise to bring together body and mind. The poses in a typical routine are designed to build strength and flexibility. A certified instructor usually teaches classes. You can also use instructional yoga videos at home.
Women with breast cancer can benefit from practicing yoga. Benefits include less fatigue, better quality of sleep, and a better sense of quality of life. If a routine is too difficult, ask your instructor for modifications that are better suited to your ability.
There are many other complementary and alternative treatments. Sometimes a complementary treatment will be used as an alternative treatment, such as:
A treatment that provides comfort or relief for one person may not work for another. You should feel empowered to try different treatments with your doctor’s approval until you find one that works for you.
Some therapies don’t interfere with conventional medicine, but others might. They can cause adverse effects or reduce the effectiveness of the conventional treatment. The safety of many alternative therapies like supplements or herbs isn’t certain because they aren’t regulated by an organization.
Delaying conventional treatment while trying an alternative treatment increases the risk of disease growth, which makes the cancer harder to treat if you decide to go back to conventional treatments. If you’d like to add or replace your traditional medical treatment, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor.
Breast cancer treatment plans vary. Some people choose to supplement traditional medicine with other treatments or use alternative treatments instead of the conventional treatments. It’s an individual choice that should be based on what’s right for you.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Medically reviewed on: Sep 08, 2014: Kenneth R. Hirsch, MD
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