What are complementary therapies?
Complementary therapies can play a role in cancer care, working alongside conventional cancer treatment. Conventional treatment refers to medicines and treatment that can be used to control cancer, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery. Complementary therapies may offer you physical, emotional and spiritual support; reduce side effects from medical treatment; and improve quality of life.
When looking for a complementary therapy it is important to find a qualified therapist. 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.
If you are considering using complementary therapies, discuss this with your treatment team, as some may interfere with your treatment.
Learn more about complementary therapies
'Complementary' vs 'alternative'
The terms ‘complementary’ and ‘alternative’ are often used interchangeably, which can be confusing. Complementary therapies are designed to be used alongside conventional cancer treatments, usually to manage side effects. Alternative therapies are used instead of conventional treatment.
Many complementary therapies are being scientifically researched for use in people with cancer, while alternative therapies are unlikely to be tested in this way.
Cancer Council Victoria does not recommend, and warns strongly against, the use of alternative therapies for treating cancer. Below are some warning signs that a treatment is an alternative therapy:
- The practitioner does not have a qualification from an accredited educational institution in the therapy they provide.
- The practitioner is not registered with a governing body or a professional association.
- The practitioner tells you that conventional medical treatment will stop the therapy or remedy they provide from working.
- The practitioner asks you not to talk to your doctors about their treatment, or wont tell you the ingredients that make up a herbal preparation they give you.
- The practitioner claims that their treatment cures cancer.
- The practitioner says there are clinical studies for effectiveness of their remedy or therapy, but does not show you proof that has appeared in trusted medical journals.
- The treatment costs a lot of money or you need to pay in advanced for several months supply of a remedy.
- You need to travel overseas to have the treatment.
Questions to ask about this service
When looking at a service it is important to ask questions about how the service works before you decide to engage with them. Below is a list of questions you might like to ask when enquiring about a service.
Am I eligible?
Some services have specific criteria that a person must meet before they are able to use a service, for example location, means testing or a specific cancer type. It is important to know if you are eligible to access a service right from the start.
Do I need a referral?
Some services require a referral from your specialist, GP or a social worker. This helps to make sure that the right patients are being connected with the right services. It’s a good idea to ask if a referral is needed and if so, exactly what type of referral the service requires.
How much will this cost me?
Some services are free, and some come at a cost. At a time when people should be focused on their treatment and recovery, the cost of cancer can be a source of stress and worry for many. It’s a good idea to ask about the fees attached to a service and if there are any subsidies or benefits you might be eligible for before committing to the service. It’s important to know that you are within your rights to ask about the cost of a service or treatment before agreeing to take part. For more information you can visit cancer and your finances.
Is there a wait time?
Sometimes demand for a service is high which can cause wait times. You might find it helpful to ask if there are any wait times for the services you are looking at, especially if you require support as soon as possible.
What services do you offer?
Some organisations provide a range of services for people affected by cancer, their family, friends and carers. It is a good idea to ask about exactly what services are available to you.
Is it true?
Cancer Council provides an online service called iHeard that provides evidence-based answers to cancer questions. It responds to stories, rumours or claims about cancer, treatment and side effects.
You can submit questions and see the answers to questions other have already asked.
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