iHeard…. that complementary therapies can be used with cancer treatment but not alternative therapies. What’s the difference? "

The terms “complementary” and “alternative” are often used as those they are the same thing. However, they are quite different.

Conventional cancer treatments have been through a rigorous research process to make sure that they work and are safe. Common conventional cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery and immunotherapy.

Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional treatments, usually to manage side effects and as an adjunct to improve wellbeing and health. Some complementary therapies are supported by strong evidence while others are not. As they are becoming more commonly used, many are being scientifically tested to see if they are safe for people with cancer, reduce or improve specific symptoms and how they interact with conventional treatments.

Complementary therapies cover a range of different therapies and can include:

  • mind-body techniques  such as mindfulness meditation, yoga and qigong
  • acupuncture
  • oncology massage
  • reflexology
  • yoga therapy
  • Reiki and aromatherapy
  • art, music and writing therapies
  • Western herbal medicine
  • selected  supplements
  • Chinese herbal medicine

Alternative therapy refers to therapies that are used instead of conventional treatments and medicines. Alternative therapies  are usually  recommended in place of conventional therapies without evidence to suggest this approach is safe, or effective and this can be dangerous. It is really important to consider complementary therapies as a safer approach and speak to a health professional with a good understanding of this path.

Some alternative practitioners falsely promote their medicines and therapies as a cure for cancer and may even encourage people to stop using conventional treatments. Alternative therapies can also be expensive and are not covered by Medicare or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

You should always discuss the use of complementary and alternative therapies with your doctor before you start using them.

Good selection of complementary therapies should be overseen by a specialist with knowledge of the evidence that supports their use in cancer care. The selection of evidence based and evidence informed complementary therapies ensures you are getting the most effective and appropriate care for your condition.

Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies as a treatment for cancer. To learn more about complementary therapies that have been proven to be safe to use alongside conventional medicine, visit our complementary therapies page.