It is estimated that 99% of all cancer survivors know about
complementary and alternative medicine practices and up to 83% of them
have participated in some form during their conventional medical care.
The most frequently reported therapies are spiritual practices,
relaxation therapy, imagery, exercise, lifestyle, diet and nutritional
There are many people that I meet that are interested in complementary therapies. The difference between complementary and alternative therapies is important to understand. Complementary therapy means that it is used in conjunction with traditional Western medicine.
Alternative therapy means that it is used instead of traditional western medicine. I feel that we should always take the best of all medicines. Therefore, I find complementary therapies to be quite beneficial and rarely recommend using only alternative therapy.
Important Questions to Ask:
In order to evaluate a complementary therapy you might be considering, be sure to ask yourself these questions:
- Is the practitioner qualified and educated in the practice they are recommending?
- For example, when getting diet or nutrition advice, you want to know that the person is a registered dietitian.
- Has the practice been scientifically proven to be safe and effective for someone like you?
- If you have cancer, or other chronic disease, you want to make sure that the practice is safe for you.
- Is there another therapy that is less invasive but may have the same therapeutic outcome?
- If you’re looking for an aid for sleep, mindful meditation might be less invasive and more effective than taking an herbal sleep aid.
- What do you hope to achieve with this therapy, and are your expectations for this treatment realistic?
- Are you expecting this therapy to prevent or cure disease, as opposed to manage a particular side effect?
Evaluating your options:
Based on how you answered the previous questions, you can categorize the therapy into one of 4 groups:
- This therapy is supported by objective research suggesting a benefit.
- This therapy has not been studied but isn’t likely to cause harm, and could provide a benefit
- This therapy has not been studied and could possibly cause harm
- This therapy has been studied and was shown to cause harm or provides no benefit
If the therapy falls into the first two categories and doesn’t cause
you to go into debt, then I think it’s a good choice. If it falls into
the third or fourth or is exorbitantly expensive, then I’d pass on the
It drives me nuts when I hear someone complain about how expensive it is to eat healthy, but they’re willing to pay $25 a quart for the newest miracle cure juice!
Here are some examples of complementary therapies that I believe are beneficial. There’s no way that I could list them all, so I just picked out some to highlight.
- Exercise therapy including Yoga, Thai Chi, Qi Gong, Aerobic or Strength Training, Dance
- Mind, Body, and Spirit Therapies: Visualization, Journaling, Self Hypnosis, Prayer, Spiritual Meditation, Anointing, Spiritual Counseling, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Emotional Counseling, Mindful Meditation, Support Groups, Acupuncture, Aromatherapy,
- Physical Touch Therapies: Healing touch, Reiki, Massage Therapy, Pet Therapy,
- Diet and Nutritional therapies: Plant based diet, vegetarian or vegan diet, Ginger tea with honey for nausea, Herbal therapy under the guidance of a trusted and certified herbologist.
The most important thing to do when using a complementary therapy is to ALWAYS communicate with your health care providers about the therapies you are using!