Science and Society

Complementary or alternative medicine in cancer care—myths and realities

  • Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology volume 10, pages 656664 (2013)
  • doi:10.1038/nrclinonc.2013.125
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Abstract

Complementary therapies are adjuncts to mainstream care, used primarily for symptom control and to enhance physical and emotional strength during and after mainstream cancer treatment. These therapies are rational, noninvasive and evidence-based that have been subjected to study to determine their value, document the problems they aim to ameliorate and define the circumstances under which they are beneficial. By contrast, 'alternative' therapies are generally promoted as such—for use as actual antitumour treatments. Typically they lack biological plausibility and scientific evidence of safety and efficacy, and many are outright fraudulent. Combining the helpful complementary therapies with mainstream oncology care to address patients' physical, psychological and spiritual needs constitutes the practice of integrative oncology. By providing patients' nonpharmacological treatment modalities that reduce symptom burden and improve quality of life, physicians enable patients to have an active role in their care, which in turn improves the physician–patient relationship, the quality of cancer care and the well-being of patients and their families.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Ingrid Haviland for her valuable expert editorial assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, 1429 First Avenue, New York, NY 10021, USA.

    • Gary Deng
    •  & Barrie Cassileth

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Contributions

Both authors researched the data for the article, contributed to the discussion of its content, wrote the manuscript and edited it before submission.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gary Deng.