Complementary Therapy

Updated 
August 31, 2015

As you begin to move through or complete treatment, you may seek ways to lessen physical and emotional side effects. More and more people are adding complementary therapies to conventional treatment. They are adopting an integrative medicineinfo-icon approach to overall care.

Complementary and integrative medicine, or CIM, is the term used to describe complementary therapies used to ease side effects, such as anxietyinfo-icon and fatigueinfo-icon, caused by conventional cancer treatment. Integrative medicine is a medical treatment plan that uses both conventional and complementary therapies to treat cancer and its effects.

You may already be familiar with some complementary therapies, like yogainfo-icon, tai chiinfo-icon or acupunctureinfo-icon, because they are widely available. Some you may have tried before you were diagnosed with breast cancer, either as a form of exercise or to copeinfo-icon with daily stressinfo-icon. Others may be new to you.

In this section, you will learn more about complementary therapies available in cancer and community centers or in private practice settings. For more details about what you can find in this section, look at the navigation on the left.

What Is Complementary Therapy?

Practices such as acupunctureinfo-icon, yogainfo-icon and meditation are often called complementary and integrative medicineinfo-icon, or CIM, for short. There is an agency within the U.S. National Institutes of Healthinfo-icon called the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health that researches these practices.

The terms alternative, complementary and integrative are sometimes misused to describe the same things, so knowing the differences among them is important.

  • Complementary therapies are physical, mental and spiritual practices used in addition to standard medical care, both during and after cancer treatment. For example, you may use acupuncture, a complimentary therapyinfo-icon, alongside standard anti-nauseainfo-icon medicines to help relieve nausea while you’re receiving chemotherapyinfo-icon treatments.
  • Integrative medicine blends standard medical care to treat the cancer along with complementary therapies that may lessen some side effects of diagnosisinfo-icon and treatment, such as stressinfo-icon, anxietyinfo-icon, weight gain/loss and fatigueinfo-icon.
  • Alternative medicine is used in place of standard medical care. This means you don’t have treatment with chemotherapy, surgeryinfo-icon, hormonal therapyinfo-icon, etc., for breast cancer. Instead, you rely only on supplements or herbal remedies.

Complementary therapies are often offered as part of an integrative breast cancer therapy plan at many hospitals and cancer centers across the U.S.

At LBBC, we believe the best approach to cancer care is medical treatment that includes managing side effects, either with or without complementary therapies. We do not support or recommend alternative medicine, which is used in place of standard medical care.

Who Gets Complementary Therapy

People of all ages and with all stages of breast cancer can access complementary and integrative medicineinfo-icon, or CIM. Some studies have been done of CIM with people with both early-stageinfo-icon and metastaticinfo-icon breast cancer, but much research remains to be done.

In some hospitals and cancer centers, CIM is offered as part of your treatment plan. You may take part in classes or sessions led by professional, licensed practitioners who work with your doctors to care for you.

Make sure to talk with your doctors before starting any complementary therapies. You may find your medical team is reluctant to talk about CIM. They may not know much about specific therapies and their impact on breast cancer. Be open about your interest, even if they don’t seem able to help you at first. It’s important for your doctors to be able to talk with you about any interactions your CIM could have with other medicines, how long to wait to start physical activity after surgeryinfo-icon, and the risk of side effects like lymphedemainfo-icon from CIM activities.

Finding Trusted CIM Practitioners

You may come across CIM practitioners who claim their therapyinfo-icon or medicineinfo-icon can cureinfo-icon cancer. If anyone makes this claim, or requires that you stop conventional treatment before working with you, look for someone else.

It’s important you trust your therapist. Private providers may help if you do not connect well with those at your hospital or community center. Look for someone certified in their field who has worked with people with breast cancer. If you cannot find someone, tell your practitionerinfo-icon about your diagnosisinfo-icon and concerns. It’s OK to ask to meet before you start classes or sessions to make sure the practice is safe for you.

Some questions to ask your CIM practitioner before working together are:

  • Do you have experience working with people with breast cancer?
  • How will your practice interact with my medicines or treatment?
  • What training do you have in your field?
  • What skills can you teach me to practice on my own?
  • If I can’t do a pose or position safely, will you show me how to adapt it to my needs?