Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care.
Types of Medicine
Standard Medical Care
Standard Medical Care is medicine that is practiced by health professionals who hold an M.D. (Medical Doctor) degree. It is also practiced by other health professionals, such as physical therapists, physician assistants, psychologists, and registered nurses. Standard Medicine may also be called biomedicine or allopathic, Western, mainstream, orthodox, or regular medicine.
Complementary Medicine is treatments that are used along with Standard Medical treatments but are not considered to be standard treatments. One example is using acupuncture to help lessen some side effects of cancer treatment.
Alternative Medicine is treatments that are used instead of Standard Medical treatments. One example is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of anticancer drugs that are prescribed by an oncologist.
Integrative Medicine is a total approach to medical care that combines Standard Medicine with the CAM practices that have been shown to be safe and effective.
Safety about CAM approaches
Some CAM therapies have undergone careful evaluation and have been found to be safe and effective. However there are others that have been found to be ineffective or possibly harmful. Less is known about many CAM therapies, and research has been slower for a number of reasons:
- Time and funding issues.
- Problems finding institutions and cancer researchers to work with on the studies.
- Regulatory issues.
- CAM therapies need to be evaluated with the same long and careful research process used to evaluate standard treatments. Standard cancer treatments have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through an intense scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients.
Natural does not mean safe
CAM therapies include a wide variety of botanicals and nutritional products, such as dietary supplements, herbal supplements, and vitamins. Many of these “natural” products are considered to be safe because they are present in, or produced by, nature. However, that is not true in all cases. In addition, some may affect how well other medicines work in your body. For example, the herb St. John’s wort, which some people use for depression, may cause certain anticancer drugs not to work as well as they should.
Herbal supplements may be harmful when taken by themselves, with other substances, or in large doses. For example, some studies have shown that kava kava, an herb that has been used to help with stress and anxiety, may cause liver damage.
Vitamins can also have unwanted effects in your body. For example, some studies show that high doses of vitamins, even vitamin C, may affect how chemotherapy and radiation work. Too much of any vitamin is not safe, even in a healthy person.
Patients should tell doctors if they are taking any dietary supplements, no matter how safe they are announced to be. This is very important. Even though there may be ads or claims that something has been used for years, they do not prove that it’s safe or effective.
What should patients do when using or considering CAM Therapies?
Cancer patients who are using or considering using complementary or alternative therapy should talk with their doctor or nurse. Please note some therapies may interfere with standard treatment or even be harmful. It is also a good idea to learn whether the therapy has been proven to do what it claims to do.