The terms complementary, alternative and integrative medicine are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same. Each field is a distinctive approach to treating disease.
Conventional medicine is the "traditional" medicine. It is practiced by a medical doctor (M.D.), a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) and other allied health professionals.
Complementary medicine is a group of mostly non-medical approaches. They are designed to help patients cope with cancer and treatment side effects like pain, depression and anxiety. Research has shown the benefits of many complementary therapies. These include acupuncture, yoga, massage, stress reduction techniques and nutritional supplements.
Integrative medicine combines scientifically proven complementary therapies with conventional medicine. It is part of a comprehensive plan to treat the disease and its side effects.
A separate approach to care is alternative medicine. Alternative medicine is used in place of, or instead of, conventional medicine. Many alternative therapies have not been proven effective. Some have no therapeutic benefits at all. They can even be dangerous.
MD Anderson does not offer alternative medicine. Instead, it offers conventional, complementary and integrative medicine.
Many cancer patients find relief from complementary therapies. Others have found them to be ineffective or have reported problems. Although some complementary therapies are useful for cancer patients, others may be harmful in certain situations.
Patients should consult with their oncologist before trying any complementary therapies. They should also inform their care team about any complementary therapies they currently use. These may affect their cancer treatment.
MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center offers many complementary therapies for cancer patients that have been shown to be safe and effective.