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Complementary & Integrative Medicine

The terms complementary and alternative medicine are often used interchangeably. However, they are two very different approaches to the treatment of disease. The following terms are used to portray the differences between traditional medicine and complementary, alternative and integrative therapies:

Conventional Medicine: "Traditional" medicine as practiced by a medical doctor (M.D.), a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) and other allied health professionals. Other terms for conventional medicine are allopathic, western, orthodox, mainstream medicine and biomedicine.

Alternative Medicine is used in place of conventional medicine.

Complementary Medicine is used together with conventional medicine. 

Integrative Medicine is used together with conventional medicine in a deliberate manner that is personalized, evidence-based and safe

Is Integrative Therapy Right for Me?

Treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, massage and nutritional supplements have clinical and scientific evidence to support their use. The list of complementary and integrative medicine practices changes continually, as therapies that are proven safe and effective become accepted as mainstream treatment options.

Many patients report that complementary therapies are helpful, but others have found no effects or have reported problems. 

It is important that your doctor knows what therapies you are using, and that treatments you receive are from a qualified practitioner.

Before trying any complementary or integrative therapy, it is important to consider:

  • Safety (appropriateness for your condition, quality control of herbal medicines and supplements, etc.)
  • Effectiveness
  • Cost in time and money
  • Credentials of the practitioner

Frequently Asked Questions

What complementary/integrative treatments are recommended for my cancer?

MD Anderson does not make recommendations of specific complementary/integrative treatments. We do assist patients and health care professionals in deciding what types of therapies might be integrated into conventional cancer treatment.

Our intent is to provide evidence-based reviews of complementary therapies, including research studies that have been published in medical literature. Some, but not all, of these studies have had conclusive results. For this reason, these therapies are not recommended without first consulting your physician.

Where can I find reviews of complementary and integrative therapies?

Our Integrative Medicine Program offers scientific reviews on thousands of integrative therapies, including herbs, dietary supplements and other options. 

Are there any cautions or warnings about integrative therapies?

Yes. Although some integrative therapies may be useful for cancer patients, some may be harmful in certain situations. We strongly encourage you to consult with your oncologist before attempting to use integrative agents or therapies.

Can you refer me to an integrative medicine physician in my area?

We do not provide referrals to physicians or practitioners of integrative therapies outside of MD Anderson.

Our Integrative Medicine Center provides a wide range of complementary therapies for MD Anderson patients and caregivers. Just ask your oncologist or nurse for a referral.

What questions should I ask a integrative medicine practitioner?*

For any treatment, we recommend that you ask the provider the following questions:

  1. What is the treatment exactly?
  2. Can this treatment:
    • Support my immune or other systems?
    • Counteract the cancer?
    • Enable the conventional treatment to work better?
    • Relieve symptoms or side effects?
  3. What is your training and credentials?
  4. Do you believe in this treatment because you have seen benefits with similar patients? If so, would it be possible to speak to some of these patients?
  5. Have results of this treatment been published in any recognized medical journals?
  6. Can you provide any references published by others?
  7. How will you know that the therapy is or is not working?
  8. Are there potential side effects?
  9. Are you willing to communicate with my primary care physician?
*Adapted from recommended questions by the American Cancer Society and from Recommendations to M.D.s on Counseling Patients’ Use of Alternative Medicine, by David Eisenberg. Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 127, No. 1, pp. 61-69.

What types of integrative medicine programs does MD Anderson offer?

Our services include acupuncture, oncology massage, nutrition consults, and more. For more information, visit the Integrative Medicine Center or browse our other resources:

Does MD Anderson have any clinical trials for integrative medicine therapies?

Check our list of integrative oncology clinical trials to see if you might be eligible for one of our studies, or go to the complete list of current clinical trials at MD Anderson.

What should I do if an adverse event happens with herbal medicine?

Contact your physician immediately. You may also check the Food and Drug Administration Medwatch website for information on home treatment or to report an adverse event.

If it is an emergency, dial 911 and/or call the Poison Control Center emergency help line at 1-800-222-1222.

Where can I find additional information about integrative medicine?

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center