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Complementary therapies

You may wonder whether using a complementary therapy will help you on your cancer journey. The decision is up to you, but make a choice that is both safe and informed. This means knowing why you want to use a complementary therapy, doing your research, understanding the differences between the many different types of complementary therapies and talking to your healthcare team.

To understand how a complementary therapy may be used, it helps to understand what we mean by conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies.

Conventional cancer treatments

Conventional cancer treatments are the treatments currently accepted and widely used in the Canadian healthcare system. They are sometimes called mainstream cancer treatments. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are all examples of conventional cancer treatments. These treatments are given by healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses and radiation therapists. They destroy cancer cells or treat them so they don’t grow and spread.

Good scientific research has shown that they are safe and effective against cancer.

Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies do not treat the cancer itself. The purpose of a complementary therapy is to help improve your overall health and well-being. These therapies help you cope physically and emotionally with conventional cancer treatments. For example, having acupuncture to help with nausea caused by chemotherapy is a complementary therapy. So is going to yoga to help you feel more relaxed and sleep better while you’re having treatment.

Research has shown that a number of complementary therapies can be used safely while having conventional cancer treatments. These therapies can help lessen treatment side effects such as nausea or fatigue. But just as importantly, they can help you cope with stress, anxiety and other challenges you may face during your cancer journey.

Studies have shown that many people living with cancer have used at least one complementary therapy as part of their cancer treatment. Some people feel that using a complementary therapy helps them gain a sense of control and to feel more involved with their healthcare. Others feel that complementary therapies help improve their quality of life.

Integrative cancer care

Integrative cancer care is an approach that combines conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies throughout the cancer journey. It’s based on the idea that as long as you’re watched carefully for what happens when the treatments are given at the same time, conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies can work well together. With integrative cancer care, people from both approaches are part of your healthcare team. Everyone on your healthcare team can make suggestions for the best treatment options for you.

Most cancer treatment centres in Canada don’t have formal integrative cancer care programs. But many cancer centres do offer some complementary therapies. For example, some centres offer meditation to people having chemotherapy because it can help reduce anxiety. If your cancer treatment centre doesn’t offer complementary therapies, you can still create your own integrative approach by finding and working with complementary therapy practitioners in your community.