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Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with conventional treatments. Sometimes called natural therapies, holistic therapies or traditional therapies, they may offer you physical, emotional and spiritual support, reduced side effects from medical treatment, and improved quality of life.

Examples of complementary therapies include acupuncture, massage, aromatherapy, meditation, herbal medicine and nutrition.

Although not all complementary therapies have been scientifically proven to work, and their safety and effectiveness is not always clear, research and clinical trials are increasing to determine the value of these therapies and how they may be able to help people with cancer.

It is important to know that complementary therapies are usually safe when you see qualified practitioners who have an understanding of the needs of people with cancer. However, you should weigh up the pros and cons of using these therapies, and discuss your decision with your doctor, to minimise the risk of any problems. Some herbs and high doses of some vitamins, for example, may affect how chemotherapy and radiation work.

Questions to ask your complementary health care provider

  1. What are your qualifications? Are you a member of a professional association?
  2. What training or experience do you have in treating people with cancer? Have you treated anyone with my type of cancer?
  3. Are you willing to work with my doctors or other health professionals I may need to see?
  4. How can the therapies you practise help me? Are there any specific precautions you would take for me?
  5. Are there side effects or risks associated with these therapies?
  6. Has the therapy been tested in clinical trials?
  7. Have the findings been published and are they available for me to read?
  8. Can these therapies be combined with conventional treatment?
  9. How long should I use this therapy and how will I know if it’s working?
  10. Are you able to do home visits if I am not well enough to attend your clinic?
  11. How long are your consultations?
  12. What do you charge for a consultation?
  13. What can I expect from a consultation?
  14. Do you dispense your own medicine and supplements?
  15. How much can I expect to pay for medicines?
  16. Have the products or medicines you dispense been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration?

The Cancer Council booklet, Understanding Complementary Therapies, has more information about complementary therapies. It is available free by calling the Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20).