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Complementary Medicine and Cancer

Is the complementary approach a new model for Western medicine?

Will My Insurance Pay for Complementary Medicine?

By and large, insurance companies don't cover complementary care. Specifics vary with each insurer and from state to state. For instance, acupuncture is covered in some states but not others, says Rosenthal.

For now, most complementary medicine is provided on a fee-for-service basis. But advocates of integrative medicine say this is likely to change.

"A lot of us are doing research now that, we hope, will show the benefits of these therapies," says Rosenthal. "Once we have the evidence, we can make a case to the insurance companies."

Shaw agrees. "We're hoping to show that these treatments will actually save insurers money," she says. "They may reduce hospitalizations and drug costs."

Finding a Complementary Medicine Caregiver

A lot of people may offer "complementary medicine." But how do you know if they're reputable? It's hard to be sure.

You're lucky if you live near a teaching hospital with a complementary or integrative medicine center. Many offer complementary services right in the hospital. If you're not close to such a center, talk to your doctor. He or she may know of people practicing complementary medicine in your area.

You should also look for credentials. For instance, acupuncturists should either have an LAc or be a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, says Shaw. You can see if your state licenses acupuncturists and other providers. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine has tips for finding qualified caregivers.

Shaw has two rules of thumb when judging good complementary medicine providers. First, they will not make any claims to cure cancer. Second, they will not try to convince you to stop conventional therapy. If a practitioner does either, you should find someone else.

There's also the flip side. If you are interested in complementary therapies, it's important your oncologist be open to them. Not every doctor is. Some flat out demand that their patients stop using all complementary therapies, since they don't know enough about them, says Shaw.

"If you want complementary therapies and your oncologist is adamantly opposed to them, you might want to find someone else," says Shaw. "There are a lot of open-minded oncologists out there who will help you."

But Zappa predicts that opposition to integrative medicine will become more and more rare.

"People in medicine are scientists, and scientists rightly need proof that treatments work," she tells WebMD. "But now we finally have a lot of good research coming out. Once the research is out there, no one can ignore it. These treatments really do help people feel better."

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Reviewed on April 16, 2009

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