What are integrative and complementary therapies?
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health defines complementary therapies as:
"a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional medicine" .
Complementary therapies are not covered in detail in Western medical schools and they are not recommended in place of standard medical treatments. However, over time, some complementary therapies have become accepted as an integrated part of medical care. When complementary therapies are used with standard medical treatments, they are often called integrative therapies.
Integrative and complementary therapies versus alternative therapies
Though they're often lumped together, complementary therapies are different from alternative therapies.
- Integrative and complementary therapies are used in addition to standard medical treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
- Alternative therapies are used instead of standard medical treatments. Standard medical treatments have all been proven to increase breast cancer survival. In contrast, alternative therapies are not proven treatments. Using alternative therapies instead of standard medical treatments is not safe.
Scientific studies on integrative and complementary therapies
There is a growing body of evidence on integrative and complementary therapies. However, few of these therapies have been studied with the same degree of scientific rigor as standard medicine. While some integrative and complementary therapies have been shown to be safe and to offer some benefit, others should be avoided. Some complementary therapies are unsafe and ineffective. Others, although safe, lack enough scientific evidence to draw solid conclusions.
Integrative and complementary therapies do not offer magic bullets to cure breast cancer, although media articles, advertising and labeling can make it easy to think otherwise. No complementary therapy has been proven to cure cancer and these therapies are not used to treat breast cancer itself.
Integrative and complementary therapies may be used to reduce some side effects of treatment (like nausea) and some side effects of the tumor (like pain). The scientific evidence supporting this use of integrative and complementary therapies varies from one therapy to another.