First, it’s important to distinguish between alternative and complementary therapy. Alternative therapy is used instead of standard or mainstream medical treatment whereas complementary therapy is used alongside conventional medical care. Alternative therapy generally implies rejecting mainstream anti-cancer treatment (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery) and is largely lacking in biological and scientific evidence of efficacy and also can be of questionable safety. Because of this the medical establishment is generally not supportive of alternative therapy. Over the past decade or so, complementary therapies have become increasingly acceptable and popular as part of cancer care and few cancer specialists would argue against the use of complementary therapies alongside conventional treatment to ease the side effects of radiation or drug therapy, strengthen the immune system and improve well-being.
Combining complementary therapies with mainstream oncology care is commonly known as integrative therapy and is a total holistic approach involving the patient’s mind, body and spirit. By supporting this approach, the cancer physician enables a patient to have an active role in their own care and this in turn improves the overall quality of cancer care and well-being of patients and their families. The ability of the patient to choose the therapy and when to have it, helps to restore some control over their life which can sometimes feel hi-jacked by a feeling of having to passively endure their medical treatments. These non-pharmacological therapies can lift your mood and spirit, reduce anxiety and stress, alleviate symptoms and side effects such as pain and nausea, and can enhance quality of life and recovery.
There is a rich array of complementary therapies such as meditation, guided imagery, mindfulness, nutritional support, counselling, massage etc, and in The Cancer Journey – Positive Steps To Help Yourself Heal we describe lots of these.