The terms complementary, alternative and integrative medicine are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same, and each field is a distinctive approach to the treatment of disease. The following terms explain the differences between these medical fields.
Conventional medicine is the "traditional" medicine as practiced by a medical doctor (M.D.), a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.) and other allied health professionals.
Alternative medicine is used in place of, or instead of, conventional medicine. Many alternative therapies and drugs do not have scientific evidence to back up their claims of effectiveness. Some have no therapeutic benefits at all or can even be dangerous.
Complementary medicine is a group of mostly non-medical approaches to help patients cope with cancer and treatment side effects, pain, depression and anxiety. Research data has verified the benefits of many complementary therapies, including acupuncture, yoga, massage, stress reduction techniques and nutritional supplements.
Integrative medicine is the practice of combining scientifically proven complementary therapies with conventional medicine as part of a comprehensive plan to treat both the disease and its physical and emotional side effects.
Many cancer patients find relief from complementary therapies, while 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.
We strongly encourage you to consult with your oncologist before trying any complementary therapies. It also is important to inform them about any therapies you currently use that may affect your cancer treatment.
MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center offers many complementary therapies for cancer patients that have been shown to be safe and effective.