Integrative and Complementary Therapies and Clinical Trials

Aprobado por la Junta Editorial de Cancer.Net, 09/2022

Integrative and complementary therapies can be added to standard cancer treatment to help reduce symptoms and side effects.

People have been using some complementary therapies for centuries. But the research on them is fairly new. When complementary therapies and standard medical treatments are used together in an evidence-based manner, it is called integrative medicine. This is the preferred approach for people with cancer.

Doctors and scientists are always looking for new ways to help people with cancer feel better. Researchers are studying different integrative and complementary therapies through clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that involve volunteers.

How researchers study integrative and complementary therapies

A clinical trial uses the scientific method to study a specific therapy. The clinical trial helps doctors discover if the therapy is helpful, not helpful, or harmful to people with cancer.

For example, clinical trials of complementary therapies have shown that:

  • Acupuncture can relieve pain associated with cancer. It can also reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

  • The herb St. John’s wort can make some types of chemotherapy more toxic or less effective.

"Alternative therapies" are different from integrative and complementary therapies. Clinical trials have also shown that alternative methods used in place of standard cancer treatment do not help people with cancer. For example, instead of chemotherapy, some people promote taking a supplement or eating a special kind of diet. Alternative therapies are unproven (or sometimes disproven) methods that do not treat cancer.

Evaluating clinical trial options

If you want to find an integrative and complementary therapy clinical trial, you can use a searchable online database. Talk with your health care team about potential matches for your treatment plan. Some complementary therapies may not work well with your type of cancer treatment. Or they may have other side effects to consider carefully with your health care team.

Consider asking these questions before enrolling in a clinical trial:

  • What is the clinical trial's goal?

  • How will the complementary therapy be provided and evaluated?

  • How does the complementary therapy differ from standard treatment for symptoms and side effects?

  • What are the potential risks and benefits of this complementary therapy?

  • How does this clinical trial fit within my standard cancer treatment plan?

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