What is Complementary & Alternative Medicine?
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) refers to therapies that extend outside of the normal practices of conventional medicine used by either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO). Complementary medicine is used in conjunction with conventional medicine whereas alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Integrative medicine combines the use of CAM practices that have shown significant effectiveness and safety with traditional medicine.
While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there are key questions that are yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies. These are questions such as whether the therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.
Despite this fact, a recent study has found that a majority of cancer patients have used at least one CAM therapy as part of their cancer treatment (Journal of Clinical Oncology; July, 2000). Cancer patients use CAM for a variety of reasons, including reducing side effects, protecting and stimulating their immune systems and preventing further cancers or recurrences (Southern Medical Journal; March 2005). Patients frequently see using supplements as a way to take control over their health and increase their quality of life.
When considering CAM, what questions should patients ask their health care providers?
- What benefits can I expect from this therapy?
- What are the risks associated with this therapy?
- How will this therapy interact with my conventional treatment(s)?
- What are the potential side effects?
- Is this therapy part of a clinical trial? If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
- Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?
It is important to tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care. You can find additional information about CAM from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) on their website, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/thinking-about-CAM.
Many CAM programs are offered free of charge to patients and family members who are being treated within a facility where these services are available. Many institutions also provide care on an out-patient basis to those who are not undergoing traditional treatment there. An institution may charge a nominal fee for additional programs that may be provided. It is important to check with the institution as well as with your insurance company to verify the costs that may be incurred.
To whom are CAM services available?
CAM programs offered at large institutions are often open to cancer patients/survivors and to their family members and caregivers whether or not they are being treated at that institution.
What types of Complementary & Alternative Therapies are there?
- Acupuncture- An originally Chinese practice of inserting fine needles through the skin at specific points with the intent to cure disease or relieve pain.
- Ayurvedic- A form of alternative medicine that seeks to treat and integrate body, mind, and spirit using a comprehensive holistic approach by emphasizing diet, herbal remedies, exercise, meditation, breathing, and physical therapy. Ayurvedic medicine is the traditional system of medicine of India that preceded and evolved independently of Western medicine.
- Chiropractic- A system of therapy which holds that disease results from a lack of normal nerve function and which employs manipulation and specific adjustment of body structures, including the spinal column.
- Holistic Medicine- A type of therapy concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection of the body into parts. Holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body.
- Homeopathic Medicine- A system of medical practice that treats a disease by the administration of minute doses of a remedy that would in healthy persons produce symptoms similar to those of the disease.
- Massage- Manipulation of tissues (by rubbing, stroking, kneading, or tapping) with the hand or an instrument for therapeutic purposes.
- Naturopathic Medicine- A system of disease treatment that avoids drugs and surgery and emphasizes the use of natural agents (air, water, and herbs) and physical means (tissue manipulation and electrotherapy).
- Nutritional Counseling/Herbal & Botanical- Herbal medicine products are dietary supplements that people take with the intent of improving their health. Many herbs have been used for a long time for claimed health benefits. They are sold as tablets, capsules, powders, teas, extracts and fresh or dried plants. However, some can cause health problems, some are not effective and some may interact with other drugs you may be taking.
- Oriental/Chinese Medicine- A system of medicine that includes theories, diagnosis and treatments that include herbal medicine, acupuncture and massage. These theories derive from many sources including the theory of Yin-Yang, the Five Phases of natural phenomena, the human body Channel system, Zang Fu organ theory and others. Often Qigong (pronounced chee-gong), a practice that integrates meditation, physical movement and mind-body integration, is also strongly affiliated with traditional Chinese medicine.
- Yoga- Yoga is a mind-body exercise which combines controlled breathing with postures that focus on strength and flexibility with the goals of increased relaxation and stabilized mood.
Use the following links to find other CAM resources in your area:
The American College for the Advancement of Medicine
ACAM represents one of the largest groups of licensed, practicing physicians in the U.S., distinguished by their evidence-based, scientific application of alternative medicines in patient care.
MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Center
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Integrative Medicine Services
The Mayo Clinic-Alternative Medicine Center
The Directory of Information Resources Online (DIRLINE)
Compiled by the National Library of Medicine, DIRLINE contains locations and descriptive information about a variety of health organizations, including CAM associations and organizations.
Finding Additional Information from Accredited Resources:
Health on the Net (HON) Foundation
Worldwide online Reliable Advice to Patients and Individuals. Can search medical literature based on keywords.
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Food and Drug Administration
PDRhealthTM is the consumer Web portal of the Physicians’ Desk Reference (PDR®), which has provided trusted and authoritative drug and clinical information to physicians for over 60 years. The PDRhealth site offers consumer-friendly explanations of disease states and conditions as well as the safe and effective use of prescription and non-prescription drugs as well as herbal medicines.
Founded by clinicians and researchers to provide high quality, evidence-based information about complementary and alternative therapies, this international multidisciplinary collaboration now includes contributors from more than 100 eminent academic institutions.
Natural Medicine Database
Includes the option to search by product name, disease, condition or drug name. Provides an effectiveness level for natural products and checks for potential interactions between any natural product and any drug.
Mission: to identify the best quality health and nutrition products through independent testing.
This website checks the validity of any complementary or alternative treatment.
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