herbalmed_585x452Complementary and alternative medicine (also called “CAM”) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care for conditions such as cancer.

While standard medical care is medicine that is practiced by health professionals who hold an M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degree, complementary medicine is treatments that are used along with standard medical treatments but are not considered to be standard treatments. Standard medical care can also be practiced by other health professionals, such as physical therapists, physician assistants, psychologists, and registered nurses. And standard medicine is also sometimes called biomedicine or allopathic, Western, mainstream, orthodox, or regular medicine.

herbalmed2More and more, some standard medical care practitioners are also practitioners of CAM. One example is medical professionals using acupuncture to help lessen some side effects of cancer treatment. Other complementary and alternative medicine includes practices such as massage, acupuncture, tai chi, and drinking green tea. Beyond that, alternative medicine exists which consist of treatments that are used instead of standard medical treatments. As an example, some professionals advocate using a special diet to treat cancer instead of anticancer drugs that are prescribed by an oncologist. And finally there is integrative medicine, which is a total-body approach to medical care. Integrative medicine combines standard medicine with CAM and other alternative practices.Together, these approaches are proving to be safe, effective and treat the patient’s entire mind, body, and spirit.

medical_laboratory_scientist_us_nihA word of caution about these natural approaches, though. Many CAM therapies include botanicals and nutritional products, like dietary supplements, herbs and vitamins. Because they are “natural” they are assumed to be safe because they are present in nature. With that said, some drug interactions do occur and may even affect how well other medicines work in your body. One example, St. John’s wort, which is an herb that some people use for depression, may cause certain anticancer drugs not to work as well as they should. As a result, it is advisable to consult your doctor before taking these natural supplements. And so just because what you’re taking is natural, it is best to also find out if it is safe for you to be taking.

If you are being treated for cancer and are considering using complementary or alternative therapy, a good idea is to talk with their doctor or nurse. While some therapies may interfere with standard treatment or even be harmful, many others work miracles when used with standard medical care. And those miracles may not only improve the quality of your life, they may open you up to a whole new world of healing.

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