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6 Things You Need To Know About Cancer and Complementary Health Approaches

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People with cancer want to do everything they can to combat the disease, manage its symptoms, and cope with the side effects of treatment. Many people turn to complementary health approaches, including mind and body practices, such as acupuncture, massage, and yoga, and natural products, such as herbs and dietary supplements. Some complementary approaches are beginning to find a place in cancer treatment—not as cures, but as additions to treatment plans that may help patients cope with disease symptoms and side effects of treatment and improve their quality of life. If you are considering a complementary health approach for cancer, here are 6 things you should know:

  1. A substantial amount of scientific evidence suggests that some mind and body approaches such as acupuncture and mindfulness-based stress reduction may help to manage symptoms of cancer and side effects of treatment. Acupuncture may help manage treatment-related nausea and vomiting in cancer patients, while massage therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and yoga may help relieve pain, anxiety, and depression in these patients.
  2. Recent studies suggest that the natural product ginger may help control nausea related to chemotherapy when used along with conventional anti-nausea medications. In general, evidence is limited on the use of herbs for managing symptoms and treatment side effects, and there are concerns about potential interactions with conventional cancer treatments.
  3. At present, there is no convincing evidence that any complementary health approach is effective in curing cancer or causing it to go into remission.
  4. Unproven products or practices should not be used to replace or delay conventional medical treatment for cancer. Delaying conventional cancer treatment can decrease the chances of remission or cure.
  5. Some complementary approaches can interfere with standard cancer treatments or have special risks for people who have been diagnosed with cancer. St. John’s wort, for example, can make some cancer drugs less effective.
  6. Before using any complementary health approach, if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer you should talk with your health care providers to make sure that all aspects of your care work together.

This page last modified September 24, 2015