Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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What is Complementary and 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 together with conventional medicine while 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.

CAM therapies may include the use of dietary supplements, special teas, vitamins, herbal preparations, and practices such as massage therapy, acupuncture, spiritual healing and meditation. While some scientific evidence exists regarding some CAM therapies, for most there is little evidence to support their effectiveness. Well-designed scientific studies are needed to determine if CAM therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used. CAM therapies are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Their reported benefits are often unproven.

Despite this fact, many cancer patients explore CAM therapies.  Patients see using these therapies as a way to take control over their health and increase their quality of life.

When considering CAM therapies, 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 healthcare providers about any complementary and alternative medicine therapies you use.  Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health.  This will help ensure coordinated and safe care and help avoid negative interactions with ongoing medical treatment. You can find additional information about CAM from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the NIH (National Institutes of Health) on their website,

Cost Considerations
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?

  • 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.
  • 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
MD Anderson Integrative Medicine Center
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Integrative Medicine Services
The Mayo Clinic-Alternative Medicine Center
National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Finding Additional Information from Accredited Resources:

CAM on PubMed
Cancer Wellness TV
Center for Mind-Body Medicine
Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Food and Drug Administration
The Cochrane Library

We’re Here to Help

For more information on complementary and alternative medicine or for free, in-depth and personalized resources and information on pancreatic cancer, contact a Patient Central Associate. Associates are available Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Pacific Time.


Information provided by the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, Inc. (“PanCAN”) is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or other health care services. PanCAN may provide information to you about physicians, products, services, clinical trials or treatments related to pancreatic cancer, but PanCAN does not recommend nor endorse any particular health care resource. In addition, please note that any personal information you provide to PanCAN’s associates during telephone and/or email communications may be stored and used to help PanCAN achieve its mission of assisting patients with, and finding cures and treatments for, pancreatic cancer. Stored constituent information may be used to inform PanCAN programs and activities. Information also may be provided in aggregate or limited formats to third parties to guide future pancreatic cancer research and treatment efforts. PanCAN will not provide personal directly identifying information (such as your name or contact information) to such third parties without your prior written consent unless required or permitted by law to do so.

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