Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

While most people think of cancer treatment as including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, there are other kinds of treatments that can be used. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) consists of a wide collection of healing techniques and practices that are not part of standard medical care.1

Many people use CAM along with standard treatments to help relieve symptoms and cope with the side effects of treatment.

How are complementary and alternative therapies different?

Complementary and alternative medicine are often grouped together, but they are not the same. Complementary medicine includes treatments that are used along with standard therapies. Alternative medicine includes treatments that are used instead of standard treatments.1

An example of complementary medicine would be acupuncture to help with nausea from chemotherapy. An example of alternative medicine would be choosing to treat ovarian cancer with diet instead of chemotherapy or surgery.

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Integrative medicine combines both standard and complementary therapies that are proven to be effective and safe.1

Types of complementary and alternative medicine

Many different CAM therapies can be used in various ways. CAM therapies can address the mind-body connection, nutrition, and more. They may be used to improve symptoms like nausea, fatigue, emotional distress, and low energy.2

The different areas of CAM may include:2

  • Traditional alternative medicine
    • Acupuncture
    • Ayurveda
    • Homeopathy
    • Naturopathy
    • Chinese medicine
  • Body
    • Chiropractic medicine
    • Massage
    • Body movement therapies
    • Tai chi and yoga
  • Nutrition
    • Dietary supplements
    • Herbal medicine
    • Special diets or foods
  • External energy therapies
    • Reiki
    • Qigong
  • Mind
    • Meditation
    • Biofeedback
    • Hypnosis
  • Senses
    • Art, dance, music
    • Guided imagery or visualization

Is CAM safe for people with ovarian cancer?

Some CAM therapies have been evaluated for safety and efficacy, while others have not. In most cases, CAM methods are not as thoroughly studied as traditional medicine. This is because regulatory issues, lack of data, and fewer researchers are often issues associated with CAM studies. However, many people with cancer turn to CAM for support with side effects or to help relieve symptoms.1

If you decide to try CAM, it is important to remember that “natural” does not necessarily mean safe or that it will not have adverse effects on treatment.

If you are interested in complementary or alternative therapy, it is important to talk with your doctor. You should consult your care team before you start CAM or stop standard treatment to practice alternative medicine. Stopping treatment may worsen your cancer. New complementary therapy, especially dietary and herbal supplements, may decrease the effectiveness of standard medical treatment.

Things to consider

Some hospitals or cancer centers have a CAM team available. They may work with treatment teams to put together an integrative plan to address your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Ask your doctor if there is a CAM team available at your treatment center.

Before beginning treatment with any CAM, tell your doctor about any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.