On this page: Finding a complementary therapist | Can I help myself or should I see a professional? | Talking with others | A second opinion | Costs | Taking part in a clinical trial
Sometimes it is difficult to decide on the type of treatment to have.
You may feel that everything is happening too fast. Check with your
doctor how soon your treatment should start, and take as much
time as you can before making a decision.
Understanding the disease, the available treatments and possible
side effects can help you weigh up the pros and cons of different
treatments and make a well-informed decision that’s based on your
personal values. You may also want to discuss the options with
your doctor, complementary health practitioner, friends and family.
You have the right to accept or refuse any treatment offered. Some
people with more advanced cancer choose treatment even if it
offers only a small benefit for a short period of time. Others want
to make sure the benefits outweigh the side effects so they have
the best possible quality of life.
Deciding whether to use complementary therapies and which
ones to choose is a similar process to deciding on a course of
conventional treatment. Some people with cancer may feel pressure
from friends and family to use complementary therapies, and may
feel guilty if the therapy they choose doesn’t offer any benefit.
Some people will consider complementary therapies at the time of
their diagnosis; others will not think about using them until later,
perhaps as part of their supportive or palliative care.
Cancer Council warns against delaying or stopping conventional
treatment in favour of an alternative therapy.
Finding a complementary therapist
Contacting a professional association is a good starting point for
finding a therapist. Many people find
good therapists through recommendations from family or friends
or through a support group. Some registered health professionals
(e.g. doctors, nurses, pharmacists) are also qualified in a
complementary therapy such as nutritional and herbal medicine,
hypnotherapy, counselling, acupuncture or massage.
- Confirm that the therapist
is willing to communicate
with your doctors about
your treatment. This is
particularly important if
you see a practitioner who
may use remedies that
might interfere with
- Check whether the therapist
would like to see your test
results, a list of medications
you’re taking, or your
conventional treatment plan.
This information reduces
the risk of them dispensing
remedies or other treatments
that might interact with
your conventional medicines
- Ask for a written treatment
plan outlining the remedies
and dietary or lifestyle
- Keep a record of your
the treatments given and
medicines or supplements
you have been prescribed.
- Write down any questions
you have or use the question
- Take someone with you to
appointments to offer support,
get involved in the discussion,
take notes or simply listen.
Can I help myself or should I see
One of the reasons people with cancer use complementary
therapies is because it helps them take an active role in their health.
Some simple ways people can help themselves, without the
guidance of a professional, include learning gentle massage
or acupressure techniques, adding essential oils to their bath,
meditating, or drinking herbal tea.
Some people may consider self-prescribing herbs or nutritional
supplements. Although this may seem like a cheaper alternative,
it may not be safe. The benefits of seeing a professional
complementary therapist are that they:
- are qualified in the therapy or medicine you are considering
- have an objective view of your case
- have experience treating a range of conditions and may have
treated other people with cancer
- are able to liaise with your clinicians, as necessary
- can prepare a tailor-made treatment plan and dispense remedies
based on your individual needs, if they are qualified to do so
- can help you avoid the health risks of using complementary
therapies that may interact with conventional cancer treatment.
Many websites offer a range of complementary medicines that
may be less expensive than those you can purchase in Australia.
However, the safety and quality regulations that apply to
commercial products sold in Australia do not cover products
purchased from overseas.
Keeping your health care providers informed
It is important that you let your
primary health care providers
(e.g. GP, nurses, specialists)
know you are considering
therapies. This will help reduce
the risk of adverse reactions.
Studies show that most
people with cancer who use
don’t discuss this with their
primary health care providers
because they worry their
doctors will disapprove.
The use of complementary
therapies to manage a range
of health conditions is growing,
so many primary health care
providers are now better
informed about them and are
often supportive of their use.
Some doctors and nurses
have also been trained in
complementary therapies and
are able to give you accurate
information about them.
It is important to discuss your
interest in complementary
therapies with your doctors
and nurses, even if they aren’t
supportive of their use. It
allows them to consider your
safety and wellbeing.
For example, your surgeon,
oncologist or radiotherapist
may have specific concerns,
such as not using particular
creams or medicines at certain
times during your treatment.
If you are taking herbs or
nutritional supplements, they
may suggest you stop taking
these before, during or after
To keep your doctors and
nurses better informed, ask
your complementary therapist
to provide a letter outlining
the type of therapy you are
It is also important to tell
your complementary therapist
that you have cancer, and
advise them of the treatment
Talking with others
You may want to discuss your different treatment options with
family or friends, medical practitioners, nursing staff, the hospital
social worker or chaplain, your own religious or spiritual adviser,
a cancer support group or Cancer Council 13 11 20. Talking it
over can help you sort out the course of action that best suits you.
A second opinion
Just as you may want to get a second opinion from another
specialist about your conventional cancer treatment, you might
want to see a few different complementary therapists to compare
how they would approach your treatment. After consulting with
a complementary therapist, you may decide you don’t want to
continue seeing them because you are not sure they can offer
you the right supportive treatment for your individual case.
Getting a second opinion can be a valuable part of your overall
decision-making process and can help you feel comfortable about
any complementary treatments you choose to have.
Consultation costs for complementary therapies vary depending
on the training and experience of the practitioner, the length of
the consultation, and the treatment provided. The standard fee
for a private complementary health practitioner is about $80 to
$140 per hour, which does not include the cost of herbal remedies,
essential oils, nutritional supplements or other products.
Naturopaths, herbalists and homoeopaths may dispense remedies
that they mix for you, or they may sell you pre-made nutritional,
herbal or homoeopathic supplements. Prices vary depending on
the type of remedy and the ingredients, strength and quantity.
Consider speaking to a few practitioners to compare costs.
If you have private health insurance, check whether you are eligible
for a rebate on the cost of the consultation with a complementary
therapist. Most funds do not provide a rebate on the cost of any
remedies or supplements that you purchase. Some complementary
therapies can be claimed under Medicare if you have a referral
from your GP as part of a Chronic Disease Management Plan.
Taking part in a clinical trial
Funding for clinical trials or research into the effectiveness and
safety of complementary therapies is limited. Because of the growing
popularity of complementary therapies in Australia, the National
Institute of Complementary Medicine was established by the
federal government to promote research in this area of health care.
Some universities and hospitals are also involved in research
and clinical trials. Your hospital or support group may provide
opportunities for you to take part in clinical trials and research
involving the use of complementary therapies.
Before deciding whether or not to join a clinical trial, discuss the
following questions with your doctor and a qualified
complementary therapies practitioner:
- What treatments are being tested and why?
- What tests are involved?
- Can I take part in the trial while having conventional treatment?
- What are the possible risks or side effects?
- What are the possible benefits?
- How long will the trial last?
- What will I do if problems occur while I am in the trial?
- Has an independent ethics committee approved the trial?
If you join a clinical trial for conventional cancer treatment, it is
important to check whether using any complementary therapies
could impact on the trial results. Speak to your doctor and/or
complementary therapist for information.
If you decide to take part in a clinical trial, you can withdraw at
any time. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20
or visit australiancancertrials.gov.au.
"I was on a clinical trial when I decided to see a
naturopath, who suggested I take coconut oil. The doctor
on the trial said it shouldn’t have an impact on my other
Alan (multiple myeloma)
Reviewed by: Dr Haryana Dhillon, Research Fellow, Survivorship Research Group,
Deputy Director, Centre for Medical Psychology & Evidence-based Decision-making, University of Sydney,
and Chair, Clinical Oncology Society of Australia Survivorship Group, NSW; Dr Kylie Dodsworth, GP, Vice-
President, Australasian Integrative Medicine Association, SA; Lauren Muir, Accredited Practising Dietitian,
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Shavita Patel, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; A/Prof Evelin
Tiralongo, Lecturer and Researcher in Complementary Medicine, School of Pharmacy, Griffith University, QLD;
Gabrielle Toth, Consumer; Dr Xiaoshu Zhu, Director, Academic Program for Chinese Medicine, Senior Lecturer,
School of Science and Health, and Researcher, National Institute of Complementary Medicine, University of
Western Sydney, NSW.