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Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies include treatments and activities that are not part of standard medical care, but may help you manage the effects of cancer and its treatment alongside medical care (sometimes called ‘integrative medicine’). This includes therapies that help you cope with the emotional consequences of diagnosis and treatment. Complementary therapies should not replace the medical treatments recommended by your doctors. You should always tell your doctors if you are using additional or complementary therapies because these can affect how other medical treatments work.

Types of complementary therapies

Many complementary therapies are available to people with cancer. Those that are thought to be most helpful include:

  • meditation
  • relaxation therapy
  • counselling and psychotherapy
  • psychological therapy for pain management
  • acupuncture

There is evidence to support the effectiveness of some complementary therapies. Not all complementary therapies are regulated or trialled to the same degree as standard medical treatments.For this reason, you should always speak with your treatment team, tell them if you are using any complementary therapies, and ask about the potential benefits and their use alongside your conventional therapy. You should also ask complementary therapists about their experience treating people with cancer, and whether there are any side effects to the therapy.

Unlike complementary therapies, alternative therapies are used instead of conventional treatments. There is little evidence to support the effectiveness of alternative therapies. Some have been studied and found to be harmful or ineffective.For this reason, people with cancer should not delay or stop conventional treatments in favour of alternative therapies.

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