Cancer treatment often involves a unique combination of drugs, radiation and other medical therapies designed to not only rid the body of cancer, but also to treat other underlying symptoms and illnesses. These are the conventional treatments designed to keep cancer in check, prevent it from spreading and, hopefully, push it into remission.

Some patients also employ other therapies in their treatment programs, though it’s important for patients to consult their physicians about the efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine treatments before making any changes to their treatment regimens.

What are complementary and alternative medicine treatments?

Complementary medicine refers to treatments that are used in conjunction with standard medical treatments. These may include massage or acupuncture, each of which may help cancer patients deal with the side effects of their treatments.
Alternative medicine is the treatment that is used instead of standard medical treatments.

Integrative medicine involves a total approach to care that will combine standard medical treatment with CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) practices that can be safe and effective.

Individuals interested in CAM therapies should discuss their options with their oncologists and other healthcare providers. says the following therapies can be helpful in alleviating a wide range of symptoms.

  • Mind/body practices: Yoga, meditation and mindfulness can improve physical strength and flexibility and mitigate stress and pain. These practices also may improve mood and reduce risk for depression.
  • Massage: Research indicates that massage therapy can ease anxiety and depression, help with sleeping issues and reduce pain and tension.
  • Acupuncture: This form of therapy has been used for decades to stimulate key pressure points on the body. Acupuncture may release beta-endorphin and serotonin in the brain to relieve pain. It may help alleviate chemotherapy-related nausea as well as many other symptoms.
  • Exercise: Physical activity may help people with cancer live longer, build strength and endurance and cope with stress.
    Doctors are unsure of the safety or efficacy of certain CAM treatments, such as herbal remedies. Patients should always speak with their physicians about their options before beginning a therapy, as certain alternative practices may interfere with standard treatment.