Complementary and alternative medicine often is referred to as CAM, and requires that patients be actively involved in the treatment plan. The CAM ideal is a partnership between patient and practitioner with dialogue about treatment options dedicated to healing the whole person. (This partnership is the UCBC model for all modalities of cancer treatment.) Complimentary therapies reflect a variety of eastern and western healing philosophies and practices that can be helpful in managing symptoms and side effects from conventional treatment. Integrative medicine is the term to describe combining conventional treatment with appropriate CAM therapies.

The National Institutes of Health has established a division devoted to research of CAM. Through clinical trials, scientists are developing a growing body of evidence-based recommendations about CAM therapies. Some are effective; others, despite anecdotal suggestions, are not. For more information, go to

Well-known examples of complementary therapies include acupuncture to control nausea and pain, and probiotics to help prevent diarrhea often caused by antibiotics prescribed for patients with bacterial infections. Other complementary options focus on quality of life with energy therapies such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and yoga. Healing Touch, Reiki and massage also have helped many patients.

While alternative medicine may be useful for some minor ailments, it is not recommended as a substitute for conventional therapies in treating a major illness like cancer. Anecdotes from friends or the Internet are not evidence-based.

Never take a nutritional or herbal supplement without first consulting your physician. Some supplements may be contraindicated with certain cancer therapies or, at worst, may interfere with a cancer drug’s ability to work. Others may cause extensive bleeding or interfere with healing after surgery.

There is no federal or state government agency that controls manufacturing safety, purity and dose consistency of vitamins and herbs or other nutritional supplements. Consumer Lab offers a fee-based service to check brand purity and dose consistency. See for more information.

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