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Integrative Medicine and Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Cancer and its treatment can take both an emotional and a physical toll on your body. Many people are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies to provide relief and increase their sense of well-being. CAM offers an array of healing philosophies, approaches and therapies that embrace a holistic approach to care - treating the mind, body and spirit.

These days, many cancer centers provide integrative therapy, which combines your traditional treatment with CAM therapies. CAM doesn't replace your cancer treatment or care; instead, it supplements your care by boosting your well-being without interfering with therapy. Examples of CAM therapies are support groups, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, meditation, yoga, art therapy and music therapy.

CAM can help you:

  • deal with your disease's symptoms
  • better cope with side effects
  • feel a sense of control over your health

Never begin a CAM treatment without speaking with your oncologist first and getting his or her approval. Some unproven therapies might not be safe or effective and put your health and recovery at risk.

The Benefits of CAM

When used in addition to other standard cancer treatments, certain CAM therapies can play an important role in enhancing the quality of a person's overall care and peace of mind. Some studies have shown that using CAM therapies can help patients better manage disease and treatment side effects. CAM users often say they feel less limited or defined by their cancer when using CAM in addition to conventional treatments.

Many CAM therapies are gentle, relaxing and minimally invasive and provide ways for patients to develop an appreciation of themselves and an awareness of their inner strength. Some techniques are "passive," requiring limited participation (for example, massage and Reiki), while others are "active" (yoga, tai chi).

CAM Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are under way to investigate the potential for CAM therapies to help:

  • improve the effects of treatment
  • boost the immune system
  • reduce the risk of developing cancer or reduce the chance that cancer will return (this use is sometimes referred to as "chemoprevention")

Still, relatively few studies have been done on the safety and effectiveness of most CAM therapies. Furthermore, no proven scientific evidence has shown that CAM can cure cancer or slow its progression. Using any unproven therapy outside of a clinical trial as a replacement for recommended chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery can be dangerous, delaying necessary and life-saving treatment.

If you'd like to know more about CAM clinical trials, speak with your doctor or contact one of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's information specialists at (800) 955-4572.

CAM Precautions

Many CAM therapies have not yet been extensively studied. For this reason, it is not widely known which are potentially helpful or harmful. Some therapies - herbal remedies and dietary supplements in particular - can interact with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Observation and follow-up by your doctor may be needed to identify any adverse effects.

CAM Insurance Coverage

Some health insurance companies have started covering certain types of CAM treatment, such as acupuncture or chiropractic care. Check with your insurance provider to find out about your health plan coverage.

How to Find an IM Specialist or a CAM Practitioner

Your oncologist or cancer center may be able to refer you to CAM services. Practitioners might include IM specialists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopaths, massage therapists and cognitive psychologists. You can also find an IM specialist or CAM practitioner by:

  • checking with your health insurance provider for names of practitioners
  • asking your doctor for a referral or recommendation
  • contacting the American Holistic Medical Association or the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine
  • asking a friend or someone who has a similar diagnosis to yours and is knowledgeable about CAM for a recommendation
  • contacting the professional organization representing the type of practitioner you're seeking; for example, the American Chiropractic Association provides tools to help you find a chiropractor in your area
  • contacting your local health department, which can help you find a contact at your state licensing board, which frequently oversees acupuncturists, chiropractors, nutritionists and licensed massage therapists, for example

Choose an IM specialist or a CAM practitioner who:

  • is licensed or certified
  • has worked with cancer patients before
  • has an understanding of conventional cancer treatments.

Find someone who'll work with your oncologist and other healthcare providers so together they can devise a treatment plan that meets your needs. Ask potential practitioners:

  • how long they've been in practice
  • where they received their training
  • how much the treatment will cost

More to Explore

last updated on Wednesday, March 16, 2011
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