Unlike complementary therapies, alternative therapies are used in place of conventional treatments. These therapies may be harmful if people with cancer delay or stop using conventional treatments in favour of them.
Alternative therapies may carry claims that they stop cancer growth or cure cancer. They are often expensive and may promote extreme dietary and lifestyle protocols. Many therapies have not been scientifically tested, so there is no proof that they work and their side effects are not always known. Some therapies have been researched and proven not to work.
Examples of alternative therapies are microwave therapy, ozone therapy, magnet therapy, coffee enemas, or taking high-dose supplements of vitamins or other compounds such as laetrile (vitamin B17), shark cartilage, mistletoe extract or melatonin.
Nutrition is an important part of cancer care but when a specific type of diet is used in place of conventional cancer treatment in the hope that it will cure cancer, it is considered an alternative therapy. Sometimes these diets omit major food groups or recommend extreme practices, such as eating one kind of food or drinking nothing but fruit and vegetable juices. Examples of extreme diets promoted for cancer control include the macrobiotic diet and the Gerson diet.
Some people will try to take advantage of others who are in a vulnerable situation. People at any stage of cancer are often targeted with offers of cures that are too good to be true. If you are feeling helpless or unsure about different treatments, talk to your doctor or a counsellor.
Be wary of the following situations:
- The practitioner has no qualifications or studied at an unaccredited college or university.
- The practitioner tells you not to have conventional treatment, or that medical treatment will stop their treatment from working.
- The practitioner asks you not to speak about the treatment with your doctors, or won’t tell you the secret ingredients.
- The treatment claims to cure all cancers.
- The practitioner says there are clinical studies for the remedy’s effectiveness but does not show you proof.
- The treatment costs a lot of money or you need to pay in advance for several months’ supply of a remedy.
- You need to travel overseas to have the treatment.