Complementary and alternative cancer therapies
For people with cancer, their family and friends
Victorian Cancer Council
This booklet is for people with cancer and their carers and families who would like to know more about complementary therapies and alternative therapies for cancer. These are sometimes referred to as ‘unproven cancer therapies’ or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
For most people, a cancer diagnosis comes as a huge shock. It can bring uncertainty and confusion about which treatment might be best for you. Your specialist cancer doctors will recommend treatment that has been proven to cure or control your type of cancer. Most people accept these recommendations and feel confident to begin treatment as soon as possible.
You may also hear about other treatment approaches known as complementary therapies. Research shows about one-third of people with cancer use some sort of complementary therapy at some time during their illness. When used alongside your conventional cancer treatment, some of these therapies can make you feel better and improve quality of life. Others may not be so helpful and in some cases may be harmful.
A small percentage of people (1% to 2%) use alternative therapies. While the Cancer Council supports the right of individuals to seek information about complementary and alternative therapies, and respects their decision to use them, we also want their decision to be an informed one. There are significant differences between a complementary and an alternative cancer therapy. Understanding these differences will help you make the right choices about using these therapies. Refer to the section titled ‘Understanding the terms’.
You will probably receive lots of advice and information about different types of therapies, from your family, friends, medical professionals, health therapists, workmates, the Internet and various media sources. Some advice will be reliable and helpful; some may be confusing, false and misleading. This booklet aims to help you and complementary and alternative cancer therapies those close to you sort through this advice, ask useful questions and make the choices that are best for you. We hope to help you recognise which therapies may be helpful, and recognise false claims about false ‘cures’.
You may also like to read our fact sheet Making Informed Decisions about Potentially Harmful and Unethical Cancer Therapies.
If you would like to talk to someone about your cancer and its treatment and receive further information, call the Cancer Council Helpline. You can speak to a qualified, experienced cancer nurse who is specially trained to listen and provide information and support. Refer also to the section on ‘Help and support’ at the end of this booklet.
You can telephone the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, Monday to Friday 8.30 am to 8 pm.
The words in bold are explained in the glossary.
Understanding the terms
Conventional cancer treatments
Why do people with cancer use therapies?
To improve sense of wellbeing
A health professional has recommended a therapy
They believe conventional treatment won’t help
To feel more in control
They like the idea of treating the ‘whole person’
To control side effects
They feel comforted by their therapist
They believe a therapy is ‘natural and healing’
Using the therapy helps to maintain a feeling of hope
They want to ‘boost their immune system’
They believe it will cure their cancer
Making an informed decision
Are all therapies safe to use?
Safety of complementary therapies
Safety of alternative therapies
Why doesn’t ‘natural’ always mean ‘safe’?
Accessing complementary therapies
Talking to your medical team
What do health professionals know about therapies?
Talking to your doctor
Choosing to give up conventional treatment
Keeping an open mind
What if my family or friends want me to try an alternative therapy?
Why do alternative therapies work for some people?
Are health professionals hiding the ‘real cure’ for cancer?
Things to consider before using a therapy
Making the right decision
Finding a therapist
Stopping a therapy or changing therapists
What to do if you have concerns about your therapist
Calculating the cost
Unethical practices (cancer quackery)
How will I know if claims of cure are false?
Finding reliable information about therapies
Searching the Internet
Other sources of information
Research into therapies
About clinical trials
Research trends into therapies
Types of therapies
Commonly used complementary therapies
Commonly used alternative therapies
Help and support
Questions to ask your health care team
Helplines and other resources
Glossary: what does that word mean?
1st dx ILC st 3, er+, pr+, her2-, T3, N1 1998. Bone mets 2004. Liver mets 2008. Leptomeningial mets 2009.
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