You have many choices to make about your cancer treatment. One choice you might be thinking about is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). CAM is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. Standard care is what medical doctors, doctors of osteopathy, and allied health professionals, such as registered nurses and physicaltherapists, practice. Alternative medicine means treatments that you use instead of standard ones. Complementary medicine means nonstandard treatments that you use along with standard ones. Examples of CAM therapies are acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicines.
CAM treatments do not work for everyone, but some methods such as acupuncture might help with nausea, pain and other side effectsof cancer treatment. In general, researchers know more about the safety and effectiveness of standard cancer treatments than they do about CAM. To make sure nothing gets in the way of your cancer care, talk to your doctor before you try anything new
CAM Use for Cancer
Many people who have been diagnosed with cancer use CAM. In 2002 and 2007, the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) includedcomprehensive questions on CAM use by Americans. According to the 2007 NHIS, more than one-third of adults (about 38 percent) had used some form of CAM. A special analysis of 2002 NHIS data found that CAM use was more prevalent among people with a prior diagnosis of cancer. About 40 percent of cancer survivors reported using CAM; 18 percent had used multiple CAM therapies. CAM use rates forcancer survivors were similar to rates for people with other chronic illnesses such as arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcers. The most popular CAM therapies among cancer survivors were herbal and other natural products (20 percent), deep breathing (14 percent), and meditationA conscious mental process using certain techniques—such as focusing attention ormaintaining a specific posture—to suspend the stream of thoughts and relax the body and mind. (9 percent).
Other surveys also find that CAM use is common among people who have been diagnosed with cancer, although estimates of use vary widely. Studies have found that cancer patients who use CAM usually do not expect it to cure their disease. Rather, they hope to boost their immune system, relievepain, or manage the side effects they are experiencing from the disease or its treatment. Few cancer patients say they use CAM because they are disappointed with their standard treatment. Their motivation is more likely to be a perceived benefit from CAM, a desire to feel more in control of their health, or a strong belief in CAM.
Surveys also indicate that use of vitamin and mineralsupplements is widespread among cancer patients and survivors, but many physicians are unaware that their cancer patients are using these supplements.
What the Science Says About CAM and Cancer
To date, relatively little is known about the safety and effectiveness of CAM therapies that people may use for cancer. However, some CAM therapies have undergone careful evaluation, and many more studies arebeing carried out every year. In 2009, the Society for Integrative Oncology issued evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for doctors to consider when incorporating complementary therapies in the care of cancer patients.
Researchers are also evaluating CAM approaches that people sometimes use in hope of reducing their risk of getting cancer. These studies have focused on various vitamin andmineral supplements.
A comprehensive summary of research on CAM and cancer is beyond the scope of this fact sheet. The following sections provide an overview of research status, highlighting results from a few reviews and studies in the areas of cancer prevention, treatment, and management of symptoms and side effects.
CAM for Cancer Prevention
Although researchers continue to...