Interested in Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Cancer? Talk with Your Doctor

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Even if you’ve never heard the term complementary and alternative medicine, you’ve probably heard of or are even using some treatments that are part of this type of medicine. Complementary and alternative medicine, also referred to as CAM, includes various treatment options such as dietary supplements, special teas, acupuncture, spiritual healing, and meditation.

If you’re interested in or already using CAM treatments, one of the most important things to remember is you should talk with your doctor. Less than one-third of people age 50 and older who use CAM talk with their health care providers about using CAM treatments, according to a recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.  African Americans are less likely than other groups to discuss their use of these treatments with their doctors.

Some people with cancer might be afraid that their doctor won't understand or approve of the use of CAM treatments. Doctors understand that people with cancer want to take an active part in their care, and they want the best for their patients and are willing to work with them.  It’s especially important to talk to your doctor to make sure that all aspects of your cancer care, including CAM, work together. Things that seem safe, such as certain foods or supplements, may interfere with your cancer treatment.

While deciding to use CAM treatments is a personal choice, it is also a medical decision. It is important to find trustworthy information on the CAM treatment you are interested in using so you can make a wise decision. This is not as easy as it may seem, because there are mistaken ideas about health care everywhere. For instance, many advertisements for CAM treatments are on television and the Internet, but in many cases, there will be little scientific evidence to back the claims made about them.

Be especially careful of product advertisements that:
Make claims they are a cure;
Provide testimonials as proof that the product works;
Make claims only about positive results and do not mention side effects or claim there are none;
Say the products have been tested in clinical studies, but provide no proof or copies of the studies.

Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Instead, look for information on CAM treatments from credible sources, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI). As the Federal leader in cancer research, NCI is committed to finding new and promising treatments—including CAM—for people with cancer. NCI’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) is dedicated to CAM research for cancer. OCCAM provides accurate information to the public that is based on scientific evidence. OCCAM’s booklets and fact sheets are easy-to-read, unbiased, informative, and based on actual scientific findings from leading researchers. Best of all, OCCAM’s information is free—to learn about CAM treatments and current research, just visit  If you don’t have access to the Internet or are having trouble finding what you need, call toll-free 1-800-4-CANCER.  A cancer information specialist can help you. The call is free and confidential.

It’s normal to want to fight cancer in any way you can, but as with any medical care decision, it’s best to make sure you have all the facts. Get information about CAM from credible sources, and talk with your doctor before starting any CAM treatments.

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