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Conventional, complementary

and alternative therapies

This information is an extract from the booklet Complementary
therapies and cancer. You may find the full booklet helpful. We
can send you a copy free see page 7.


Conventional therapies
Complementary and alternative therapies
Complementary therapies and cancer
Choosing a therapy
Types of complementary therapy

Conventional therapies
Conventional therapies are the medical treatments doctors
use to treat people with cancer. Surgery, radiotherapy,
chemotherapy, hormonal and biological therapies are all
conventional treatments.

Complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary and alternative therapies or CAM
(complementary and alternative medicines) are other treatments
sometimes used by people with cancer. These treatments are
often grouped together, but there can be important differences
between them based on how and why they are used. Often
a treatment can be complementary if used in one way and
alternative if used in another.

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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

Complementary therapies are usually used alongside

conventional therapies. They arent used to cure cancer.
Instead, they are used to boost physical or emotional health.
They may also be used to help relieve the symptoms of
cancer or the side effects of conventional treatments.
Complementary medicine is also sometimes called integrated
or integrative medicine.
While complementary therapies are generally used in
addition to conventional treatments, the term alternative
therapy is often used to refer to treatments that are used
in place of conventional treatments.
Some alternative therapies claim to actively treat or even cure
cancer, but no alternative therapies have been proven to cure
cancer or slow its growth.
Conventional treatments for cancer are scientifically tested
and researched so that their safety, effectiveness and possible
side effects are known. However, alternative therapies dont
go through the same rigorous testing. This means that their
benefits in treating cancer are unclear and some alternative
therapies may even be harmful. Using an alternative therapy
instead of conventional cancer treatment could reduce the
chance of your cancer being cured or controlled.

Complementary therapies
and cancer
There are many reasons for using complementary therapies.
They can be a good way of helping you cope with some of
the stresses caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Many
therapies are relaxing, and having an enjoyable experience
may lift your spirits when you arent feeling your best. Some
complementary therapies can also help to relieve specific
symptoms or side effects caused by cancer or its treatments.
Many people regard using complementary therapies as a
positive choice they can make for their health and well-being.
You may be looking for ways to make positive lifestyle changes
and see complementary therapies as one way of doing this.
You may want to use them to try to boost your health before,
during or after cancer treatment.

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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

It was important for meto feel I was actively doing

something to make myselfas prepared as I could be for
the treatment.
Some people say that the relationship they develop with
their complementary therapist is an additional benefit.
Complementary therapists usually work with the person as
a whole, not just the part of the body where the cancer is.
This is called a holistic approach and is something good
healthcare practitioners also do. Many people say talking
to their complementary therapist is a valued part of their
complementary treatment. Someone who listens may help you
cope with difficult feelings, which can be an effective way of
getting back some control. If you use therapies as part of a
group, you may also have an opportunity to meet others who
share similar experiences in a positive environment.

The yoga group gave me such confidence in myself, they

changed my way of thinking.
Complementary therapies may help:
you feel more in control
improve your quality of life
reduce stress, tension and anxiety
you sleep better
relieve some cancer symptoms
lessen some of the side effects of cancer treatment.

Choosing a therapy
When choosing a therapy, it can be helpful to think about how
it may benefit you, what you would like to do, if there are any
safety issues and how much the treatment costs.
If you would like to know what other people have found
helpful, you can contact a local cancer support group.

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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

Alternatively, if you have internet access, you can join an online

cancer community. Communities make it possible for people
affected by cancer to give and get support, and to share
their experiences of all aspects of their treatment, including
complementary therapies. You can join our online community
The website healthtalkonline has interviewed people about
their experiences of complementary therapies and cancer. You
can see what they say at

Your preferences
To help you decide what feels right for you, it may help to think
about what you want from the therapy.
This may include:
managing a specific symptom
help coping with your feelings
a general boost
making a positive lifestyle change.
Also consider:
Are there some types of therapy that particularly appeal
to you or fit with your beliefs or outlook on life?
Whats available in your area?
Are treatments free or, if you have to pay, how much can
you afford?
Do you want a one-off treatment or something to
do regularly?

Complementary therapies to me mean a bit of indulgence,

massage, me time.
Some complementary therapies may not be suitable if you
have a particular type of cancer or may not be suitable to use
with some treatments.

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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

Before using a complementary therapy, check if it could

have any effects that could be harmful to you. Its also
important to check whether it could interact with your cancer
treatment, make it less effective or increase side effects. Look
out for safety issues to consider highlighted in green boxes
throughout this booklet. Remember, this cant take the place
of advice from your doctor.
Most doctors are happy for their patients to use
complementary therapies. Its important to tell your hospital
specialist if youre having any form of complementary therapy,
especially if youre going to have one that involves taking
herbs, pills or medicines.
If youre having treatment from a complementary therapist,
its important to let them know that you have cancer.

Therapies can be expensive, particularly if used over a long
period of time. Check the cost of treatment beforehand. If
youre paying for the treatment yourself, make sure youre
being fairly charged. Some private practitioners offer a sliding
scale of charges.
Some complementary therapies are provided free by the
NHS. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are complementary
therapies available at your hospital, hospice or through your
GPs practice. Some cancer support groups offer therapies
free of charge or at a reduced cost.

Getting information about therapies

Everyones situation is unique. Before making any decisions
about complementary therapies, make sure you have all the
information you need and speak to your doctor.
Ask to have an initial consultation with a complementary
therapist to find out what they feel their therapy can do for
you. See our tips on choosing a therapist and what to ask
them on the next page.
You may find it helpful to take a relative or friend with you for
support. It can help to write down the questions that matter
most to you beforehand. You can then take time to decide
whether you want to go ahead with treatment and think about
the best option for you.

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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

The Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00 can give

you information on complementary and alternative therapies,
and on how to find a suitable therapist. They can also help you
find a support group offering complementary therapy services
in your area.
You can also find information about therapies in books from
the library and on the internet. Be careful when choosing
what to read or believe on the internet. Some websites carry
claims that arent backed up by evidence and others may be
selling products for profit.

Choosing a complementary therapist

Its important to use a registered practitioner. For each therapy
mentioned in this booklet, we give details of an organisation
that can help you find a qualified and registered therapist.
Always use a qualified therapist who belongs to a
professional body.
Ask the organisation about the level of qualification their
practitioners have.
Check if the organisation has a code of practice and ethics,
and also a disciplinary and complaints procedure (the better
organisations will have this).
Ask the practitioner how many years of training theyve had
and how long theyve been practising.
Ask if they have indemnity insurance (in case of negligence).
Dont be misled by promises of a cure. No reputable
therapist would claim to be able to cure cancer.

Types of complementary therapy

There are many types of complementary therapy. Some
are based on traditional medical systems outside of western
medicine such as Traditional Chinese Medicine or Indian
Ayurvedic Medicine.
The various complementary therapies can be divided into
five groups:
mind-body therapies
massage therapy
energy-based therapies
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Conventional, complementary and alternative therapies

physical therapies
therapies using herbs, supplements or diet.
Therapies can be grouped in other ways and some may fit into
more than one group.

More information and support

If you have any questions about cancer, ask Macmillan.
If you need support, ask Macmillan. Or if you just want
someone to talk to, ask Macmillan. Our cancer support
specialists are here for everyone living with cancer,
whatever you need.
Call free on 0808 808 00 00, MondayFriday, 9am8pm
To order a copy of Cancer and complementary
therapies or one of the other booklets mentioned in
this information, visit
We make every effort to ensure that the information we provide is accurate but it
should not be relied upon to reflect the current state of medical research, which is
constantly changing. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult
your doctor. Macmillan cannot accept liability for any loss or damage resulting from
any inaccuracy in this information or third party information such as information on
websites to which we link. Macmillan Cancer Support 2011. Registered charity
in England and Wales (261017), Scotland (SC039907) and the Isle of Man (604).
Registered office 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7UQ


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