If you are considering using a complementary therapy, these seven tips may help you make safe choices.
1. Talk with your health care provider
When it comes to deciding whether or not to use a complementary therapy, don’t go it alone. Your health care provider can help ensure complementary therapies are well-integrated with your standard treatments and can help prevent harmful interactions. Together, you and your provider can make informed decisions about what’s best for your health and well-being.
2. Use a complementary therapy only as an addition to standard treatment
Complementary therapies should never be used instead of, or apart from, standard medical care. Standard cancer treatments have proven benefits. Replacing these with less-studied complementary therapies is not safe.
Although they should not be used in place of standard medical treatments, 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.
3. Take the initiative
When considering a complementary therapy, learn all you can about the therapy you are interested in using (such as safety, effectiveness and any harmful interactions with standard cancer treatments or other complementary therapies you’re already using).
This section of Understanding Breast Cancer has detailed information describing many complementary therapies. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also has information on many therapies. The National Library of Medicine’s PubMed is good resource to search for scientific articles on complementary therapies.
4. Be wary of wild claims
No complementary therapy has been proven to cure cancer. If a complementary therapy is said to cure cancer, this is a sign the product is not effective and, more importantly, could be unsafe. Be sure to do some research and see what the scientific evidence actually has to say about it. Your health care provider is a good source for this information.
5. Don’t equate “natural” with “safe”
Natural does not mean safe. Think about poison ivy, poisonous mushrooms and rattlesnakes.
6. Choose reputable brands
With dietary supplements, there’s little guarantee that what is on the label is what’s actually inside. Choosing supplements from known, reputable manufacturers may increase the likelihood:
- The supplement listed on the label is inside the bottle
- The dose and potency are listed correctly
- The supplement is free of harmful contents, like pesticides and heavy metals (such as lead, arsenic or mercury)
One way to check that a manufacturer follows good practices in preparing supplements is the “USP verified” stamp on the label. For more on this, or to see if a supplement has been USP verified, visit the USP website.
7. Choose licensed complementary therapy practitioners
Visiting a licensed practitioner isn’t a guarantee you’ll get good, safe care. However, a license to practice does show that a provider has passed the licensing requirements in his/her complementary therapy field.