The emergence of integrative medicine (IM) has prompted greater awareness of the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies as part of cancer care.
When a CAM therapy is used in addition to chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery, it's referred to as a "complementary" therapy. When a therapy is used alone or instead of the proven standard of care, it's referred to as an "alternative" therapy.
IM has grown partly in response to efforts by patients to take a more active role in their healthcare and utilize therapies that focus on overall health and healing. IM combines CAM therapies, such as acupuncture, massage or meditation, with standard treatments (also called mainstream, conventional, Western, allopathic or proven treatments).
By integrating CAM therapies into conventional treatment plans, doctors are better able to address the physical, emotional, spiritual and quality-of-life needs of patients. However, before CAM can be recommended and used as part of a treatment plan, scientific evidence must show that it's safe and effective.
Because of the emotional and physical toll cancer and its treatment takes, 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 by 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; it supplements your care by boosting 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 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, and could delay 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 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 coverage.
How to Find an IM Specialist or a CAM Practitioner
Your oncologist or cancer center may be able to refer you to CAM service practitioners such as 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, among others
Choose an IM specialist or a CAM practitioner who:
- Is licensed or certified
- Has worked with cancer patients before
- Understands conventional cancer treatments.
Find someone who'll work with your oncologist and other healthcare providers so they can devise a treatment plan together 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