Complementary and alternative treatments help some women lessen the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. Some use CAM to help lessen the stress of treatment. Complementary treatments can also help you feel empowered. People may find benefit in practicing positive self-care rather than relying solely on doctors for their health and well-being.
WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called “Me & the Girls,” explores the personal stories of these women after they were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Ilene Smith, MS, RD, 49, lives in the New York area. In late October 2007, Smith felt a lump in her left breast while on a conference call for work. "I got cold, and so I put my hand under my arm, and I felt the...
What is complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM?
Treatment for medical problems typically fits into one of three categories:
Standard care is also called "traditional" or "conventional" care. It refers to typical Western medicine. For breast cancer, that includes chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation, and surgery.
Complementary treatment refers to any type of care that you use along with standard care.
Many complementary treatments may hold great value. But there’s a lack of research regarding their risks, benefits, side effects, and how they might interact with standard care.
But research into CAM is growing. Complementary therapies are becoming part of doctors' treatment options. And more and more doctors are recommending them to patients.
Alternative treatment refers to care that you use to replace standard care as an alternative to the Western medical approach.
Alternative treatments have been used worldwide for centuries. But like complementary treatments, they haven't gone through rigorous testing.
How are complementary and alternative treatments developed?
Many of these therapies have roots in alternative medical systems. These systems have different ways of understanding the human body, disease, and healing. As a result, they differ, sometimes significantly, from Western medicine.
Most complementary and alternative treatments are forms of holistic medicine. That means they seek to restore health and balance to the "whole person" -- not just the body. They focus on your mind, emotions, and spirit, too.
Alternative medical systems include:
Traditional Chinese medicine, which uses acupuncture, tai chi, qigong, herbs, and massage to unblock internal lines of energy that are believed to run through the body.
Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient system from India. It seeks to harmonize mind, body, and spirit through foods, meditation, and massage.
Naturopathy and homeopathy, which use herbs, botanicals, and other natural products to help the body heal itself.
Indigenous healing methods, which have origins in the practices of Native American, Hawaiian, or South American peoples. Each system has its own beliefs about the cause of disease and healing.