It’s useful to know some terms associated with alternative therapies:
- “Conventional” means using research-based medical therapies to treat cancer effectively.
- “Complementary” or “integrative” means using non-mainstream methods along with conventional therapies.
- “Alternative” means using non-mainstream methods in place of conventional therapies.
Conventional cancer therapies vary depending on the type of cancer a patient has but may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. All of these are backed by extensive research showing that they can treat specific types and stages of cancer.
Complementary or integrative methods may include activities like yoga, acupuncture, or meditation. When used along with conventional medical therapies, such practices may help patients feel better or manage symptoms or side effects of the disease or its treatment. They may improve mental health, help manage pain, and boost quality of life.
None of these methods have been found to heal or cure cancer. They should not be used as a substitute for conventional cancer therapies.
Using alternative therapies alone to treat cancer can increase the likelihood of death.
Choosing to use unproven methods instead of conventional cancer therapies can be dangerous. Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine recently studied outcomes for cancer patients who chose to use only alternative approaches. Patients who chose only alternative methods were 2.5 times more likely to die during the study than those who used proven cancer therapies. For patients with breast cancer, avoiding conventional therapies increased the risk of dying by nearly six times. For patients with colon cancer, the risk of dying was 4.5 times higher.
Talk to your doctor about complementary and alternative therapies before using them. It is important to let your doctor know if you are using complementary or integrative methods along with conventional therapies. Complementary approaches are not subject to the same types of scrutiny or research as conventional therapies. When seeking information about unconventional approaches to cancer management, it is important to look for evidence of a meaningful improvement in a large number of people. Be wary of any claims that offer seemingly miraculous results or quick cures—if cancer were a simple disease, it would already be widely cured.