No one wants a cure for cancer more than someone with the disease. Because of this, many people are willing to try treatments outside the mainstream of traditional medicine.
But while some complementary and alternative methods (CAM) have been scientifically proven to promote healing or reduce symptoms, many have not.
Understand CAM treatments
A small number of CAM therapies originally considered to be purely alternative approaches are finding a place in cancer treatment as complementary therapies that may help people feel better and recover faster.
One example is acupuncture, which has been found to be effective in managing chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting.
In contrast, some approaches, such as the use of laetrile, have been studied and found ineffective or potentially dangerous.
In evaluating complementary methods, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends that people with cancer consider the following questions:
Do the practitioners of an alternative treatment claim the medical community is trying to keep their cure from the public? No one genuinely committed to finding better ways to treat a disease would knowingly keep an effective treatment a secret or try to suppress it.
Do those who endorse the treatment claim it's harmless and painless and that it produces no unpleasant side effects? Treatments presently in use frequently have unpleasant side effects.
Does the treatment have a secret formula that only a small group of practitioners can use?
If a CAM therapy you're considering elicits a yes answer to any of these questions, it's likely the treatment is not helpful and possibly harmful.
Cancer patients using or considering a complementary or alternative therapy should always discuss this decision with their health care providers. Some CAM therapies may interfere or be harmful when used with conventional treatment.
Here are questions the NCI recommends that you and your provider consider:
What are the benefits expected from this therapy?
What are the risks?
Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
What are possible side effects?
Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
Is the therapy part of a clinical trial? If so, who is the sponsor?
Will this therapy be covered by your health insurance?
You can also visit the website of the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the NCI.