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  • Talking with Your Health Care Provider about Complementary Therapies



    Talking with Your Doctor
    Fact Sheet


    Questions to Ask the Doctor About Breast Cancer
    Topic Card

    The importance of talking with your health care provider

    Any decisions about complementary therapy use should be made jointly with your health care provider. Few complementary therapies have been studied with the same degree of scientific rigor as standard medicine. While some have been shown to be safe, others should be avoided. For example, some therapies can [8-12]:

    • Interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
    • Increase surgical risks
    • Worsen treatment side effects

    Talking with your provider before using any complementary therapy may help avoid problems and ensure all the risks and benefits to your health are carefully considered.  

    Clinical trials of complementary therapies

    Clinical trials provide vital information about the safety and effectiveness of complementary therapies. Taking part in a clinical trial gives you the chance to use a complementary therapy in a well-monitored setting.  

    It is important to discuss joining a clinical trial, whether for a complementary therapy or breast cancer treatment, with your health care provider. He/she can discuss the benefits and any risks with you.  

    These websites can help you find clinical trials of complementary therapies:  

    National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine   

    Learn more about clinical trials.

    Tips for talking with your health care provider

    • Don't be shy. Be open with your provider. Share your thoughts, interests and concerns about complementary therapies.
    • Make a list. Before your office visit, write down the things you want to discuss and do your best to get through them all before you leave. (This is a useful tip for any office visit with your provider.)
    • Be specific about each therapy. For supplements, make a note of the name, all the ingredients, the manufacturer and how much of the supplement you're thinking about or are already taking. It is helpful to bring the supplement bottle or container with you. For other types of therapies, make a note of the exact therapy, how often you'd like to use it and who (if anyone) will be providing it.
    • Keep a symptom diary. When you start a complementary therapy, keep a daily diary of any side effects or relief from symptoms.
    • One therapy at a time. Do not try more than one new complementary therapy at a time. That way, if a side effect occurs, you will know which therapy is most likely causing the problem. And, if you get relief from symptoms, you will know which therapy is most likely helping.
    • Discuss your use of complementary therapies at each office visit. Use your symptom diary to talk about how you've been feeling while using the therapy.  

    Questions for your provider

    The following questions may help you start a discussion with your provider:

    • How do you feel about complementary therapies?
    • Have you ever referred a patient to a complementary therapy practitioner?
    • What’s the best way to find a licensed complementary therapy practitioner?
    • I am using these complementary therapies (name therapies). Should I stop them during and/or after my breast cancer treatment?
    • Should I let you know before I start a complementary therapy? Which therapies should I be sure to avoid?
    • Is this complementary therapy (name therapy) safe? Is there research showing it is safe? Will it interfere with my breast cancer treatment?
    • Are there side effects with this complementary therapy (name therapy)?
    • Is there a clinical trial studying this complementary therapy (name therapy)?

    Learn more about talking to your health care provider.  

    Learn more about clinical trials.  

    Updated 06/24/14 


    Safety of Complementary Therapies 

      Finding a Complementary Therapy Practitioner




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