Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care

Barrie Cassileth; Marjet Heitzer; Jyothirmai Gubili


Cancer Chemother Rev. 2008;3(4):204-211. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Cancer patients' use of complementary therapies, including massage therapy, acupuncture, mind-body therapies, music therapy, physical exercise, and herbs and botanicals has increased in recent years. In fact, complementary therapies are increasingly integrated into mainstream cancer programs and centers. Randomized controlled studies indicate that many complementary therapies control treatment-related physical and emotional symptoms including pain, fatigue, nausea, xerostomia, anxiety, and depression in both adult and pediatric cancer patients. Importantly, many of these interventions produce long-lasting improvement. Cautions are important, however, regarding the use of herbs, vitamin preparations, and other over-the-counter agents. These may be harmful as many interact with conventional pharmacologic drugs, including chemotherapy, or produce unwanted side effects. A subset of the too-numerous Internet and other sources of information contains accurate information. Cautions and resources for reliable information are given in this chapter to assist physicians in guiding their patients on the appropriate use of helpful complementary therapies as well as the often problematic products that are taken by mouth. (Cancer & Chemotherapy Rev. 2008;4:204-11)


In addition to standard treatments, complementary therapies are increasingly being used by cancer patients in an effort to alleviate cancer symptoms and those associated with cancer treatment as well as improving their overall wellbeing and quality of life. More than 40% of breast cancer patients in the USA reported using complementary therapies,[1] and the numbers are comparable to complementary and alternative medicine use by European cancer patients[2].

As opposed to alternative therapies, which are used in place of conventional treatment, complementary therapies are utilized in conjunction with standard treatments and consist of noninvasive therapies. Complementary therapies include massage therapy, acupuncture, mind-body therapies, music therapy, physical exercise, and herb and botanical use. Of these, herbs are the most commonly employed complementary medicine by cancer patients[2,3]. We review here the evidence base and appropriate application of today's popular complementary modalities for cancer, including acupuncture, mind-body therapies, physical activity, herbs, and other dietary supplements. In addition, with respect to herbs and other dietary supplements, cautions regarding harmful side effects and interactions with conventional pharmacologic drugs are presented. Finally, reliable resources that provide information pertaining to helpful and potentially harmful complementary therapies are given in this chapter.


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