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Cancer Health Center

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Complementary Medicine: Choices Chart

WebMD Feature

Here's a rundown of complementary therapies people with cancer might use. Though it would be impossible to list them all, this chart presents some of the integrative treatments that have the best evidence behind them or are the most widely used.

Remember that complementary medicine is never a replacement for traditional medical care. Instead, you should use complementary therapies alongside your chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. Be sure to talk to your doctor about any complementary therapies you are thinking about trying. "Natural" therapies can have side effects and interactions just like conventional treatments.

Treatment What is it? Possible Benefits Possible Risks
Acupuncture & Acupressure Use of pressure points to relieve pain and other symptoms Multiple studies show acupuncture can reduce nausea associated with chemotherapy and reduce cancer pain. Adverse effects are rare. People who are prone to bleeding should make sure acupuncture is safe for them.
Biofeedback Instruction in how to control some of your body's automatic responses -- like heart rate -- using monitors. Some studies have shown that biofeedback can reduce stress, chronic pain and insomnia. None.
Chiropractic Care Manipulation of the joints and skeletal system. There is some evidence it reduces back pain and headaches. Relatively safe, although it can occasionally cause injury. People who are prone to bleeding, have weak bones, nerve damage, or other health problems should check with their doctor first.
Creative Outlets Examples are music, dance, and art therapy. May reduce stress and improve mood. None
Fitness Includes fitness classes designed for people in cancer treatment or recovering from it. Research suggests hypnosis can reduce stress, improve mood, reduce cancer pain, and reduce nausea caused by chemotherapy. None
Massage Kneading and rubbing of muscles and soft tissue. Some studies show that massage can reduce stress and anxiety. Others suggest it may also reduce cancer pain. Risks are low. People who are prone to bleeding, have weak bones, nerve damage, or other health problems should check with their doctor first.
Meditation and Guided Imagery Calming yourself by using breathing exercises, repeating a word, or imagining yourself in relaxing places Studies show it can reduce pain, stress, and anxiety. Imagery may reduce the side effects from chemotherapy. None
Nutritional Counseling Guidance on eating a healthy diet. A good diet can make you feel better and help maintain your weight. Low, although extreme diets that restrict food groups can be unsafe.
Reflexology Use of pressure points on the hands and feet. Purported to induce relaxation and ease pain. Risks are believed to be low. People who have weak bones, arthritis, heart disease, or other health problems should check with their doctor first.
Reiki, Tai Chi,
and Other Energy Therapies
Treatments that supposedly realign "energy" in your body using movement or pressure. Purported to reduce stress and improve quality of life. Low. People with arthritis, heart disease, or other conditions should check with a doctor before getting one of these treatments.
Supplements and Alternative Medicines Use of vitamins and alternative medicines extracted from plants. Some may ease symptoms from cancer and its treatment; others are being studied for their effect on cancer itself. Risks vary greatly, depending on the particular drug. You should never take a supplement, herb or botanical without your doctor's approval. Some can be dangerous and cause drug interactions.
Yoga Stretches and movements combined with breathing exercises. May reduce stress, improve mood, and increase physical fitness. Low. But always check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.

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