Integrative, Complementary or Alternative Medicine

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What Is Integrative, Complementary or Alternative Medicine (ICAM)?

Integrative, complementary or alternative medicine (ICAM) are therapies outside of standard medical care.

Integrative medicine is a coordinated approach using both conventional and complementary medicine for treatment. This is done through the same treatment center or system. To be considered integrative medicine, the approach must have shown significant effectiveness and safety when combined with conventional medicine. An example is a patient who gets acupuncture to lessen nausea and pain from chemotherapy.

Complementary medicine is used with conventional medicine.  An example is a patient who gets massage from a professional familiar working with cancer patients.

Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example is a patient who uses a certain diet to try to treat the cancer instead of having surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate ICAM therapies. Though not a proven treatment, evidence suggests that some of these approaches may help control symptoms and side effects.

Approaches doctors often use with conventional medicine for pancreatic cancer patients include:

  • Acupuncture has been shown in some studies to relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
  • Exercise has been shown to have several beneficial effects for cancer survivors, including maintaining quality of life and weight.

Some ICAM therapies, such as mediation and yoga, can also be helpful for caregivers.

Types of ICAM Therapies

    Tea, supplements and herbs are examples of complementary and alternative medicine

  • Dietary supplements
  • Special teas
  • Vitamins
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Spiritual healing
  • Meditation
  • Chiropractic
  • Yoga
  • Medical cannabis

Though some of these therapies are widely available, it is important for patients to look for providers who have experience working with people with cancer.

Note: The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network does not recommend nor endorse one type of treatment over another. Before beginning any new ICAM treatment, please discuss it with your doctor.

How Do I Get ICAM?

Many institutions offer integrative and complementary medicine resources. Ask your healthcare team if your treating center has these resources or can help you find them.

There may also be clinical trials studying integrative or complementary medicine.

How Much Does ICAM Cost?

As with any treatment, costs may be different from person to person. Check with the service provider and your insurance company to understand costs. ICAM therapies at a patient’s treating institution are often free or covered by insurance.

Safety and ICAM

ICAM therapies are still related to your health. If you are considering ICAM:

  • Always talk to your entire healthcare team about any treatments you consider or receive, including dietary supplements
  • Use sources other than a product or its company’s website to research the therapy, any studies on it, possible side effects and possible interactions with your other treatments
  • Look for highly qualified, licensed practitioners who have worked with cancer patients

Contact Patient Central for credible ICAM resources.

Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team About ICAM

  • How will this therapy help me?
  • What are the risks of this therapy?
  • How will this therapy interact with my other 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 my health insurance?

Tell your healthcare team about any medicines you are taking, including ICAM. This will help avoid negative interactions with ongoing treatment.

Integrative, Complementary or Alternative Medicine Video

We’re Here to Help

To learn more about pancreatic cancer treatment – including integrative, complementary or alternative medicine – contact Patient Central.


Information reviewed by PanCAN’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board, who are experts in the field from such institutions as University of Pennsylvania, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and more.

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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