Choosing a complementary therapy
When choosing a complementary therapy, it can help to think about what you would like to do, how it may benefit you, any safety issues, and how much it costs.
If you'd like to know what other people have found helpful, you can contact a local cancer support group. Or if you have internet access, you can join an online community such as Macmillan's Online Community. Support groups and online communities make it possible for people affected by cancer to give and get support. People can share their experiences of all aspects of their treatment, including complementary therapies.
You can also read interviews with people who have tried complementary therapies at healthtalkonline.org
Find out how you can meet other people who understand what you're going through and see details of support groups near you.
Our Online Community is open 24 hours a day to help you find support, whatever the time of day or night. You can share your experiences with people who know what you're going through.
Near to where I live is a lovely cancer support centre. Not only do they offer a range of complementary therapies, 12 of which are free, they also offer counselling. They do yoga and go walking. You can even just drop in for lunch and a chat.
To decide what feels right for you, it may help to think about what you want from the complementary therapy.
You may want to:
There are some other things to think about:
What’s available in your area?
Are treatments free or, if you have to pay, how much can you afford?
Do you want a one-off treatment or something to do regularly
Doctors don’t usually have a problem with their patients using complementary therapies. But some therapies may not be suitable if you have a particular cancer or are having certain treatments.
Before using a complementary therapy, talk to your cancer doctor or nurse. Find out if it could have any harmful effects for you. It’s very important to check whether it could interact with your cancer treatment, make it less effective or increase side effects
Look for safety issues highlighted in green boxes like this one throughout this information. Remember, this information does not take the place of advice from your doctor.
If you’re already having complementary therapy before you start conventional treatment, make sure you tell your cancer doctor or nurse, especially if you’re taking herbs, pills or medicines.
If you’re having a complementary therapy, it’s very important to tell the complementary therapist you have cancer.
Some complementary therapies are provided free by the NHS and some larger cancer charities. Ask your doctor or nurse if there are complementary therapies at your hospital, hospice or GP surgery. Some cancer support groups offer therapies free of charge or at a reduced cost.
Therapies that aren’t provided by the NHS or a support group can be expensive. This can add up over a long period of time. Check the costs beforehand and make sure you’re being fairly charged. Some private therapists may offer a reduced cost based on your ability to pay.
Before making any decisions make sure you have all the information you need about the complementary therapy you're interested in. Talk about it with your cancer doctor or nurse.
Ask to have a consultation with a complementary therapist first to find out what they think their therapy can do for you. See our tips below on choosing a therapist and questions to ask.
You may find it helpful to take a relative or friend with you for support. It can help to write down the questions that matter most to you beforehand. Take your time to decide if you want to go ahead with the therapy.
The Macmillan Support Line can give you information on complementary and alternative therapies, and how to find a suitable therapist. They can also help you find a support group offering complementary therapy services in your area.
You can also get information about therapies in library books from and online. Be careful when choosing what to read or believe on the internet. Some websites make claims that aren’t backed up by evidence and others may be selling products for profit.
Choosing a complementary therapist
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It’s important to use a registered practitioner. There are several organisations that regulate complementary therapists but registration is not compulsory in the UK. Therapists volunteer to join the register. Those who are members of these organisations have met a required national standard of practice. They may have a quality mark displayed on a certificate of qualification or in their place of work.
Regulatory organisations will be able to provide you with a list of registered therapists.
When choosing a therapist, you should:
always use a qualified therapist who belongs to a professional body - ask the organisation about the level of qualification their practitioners have
check if the organisation has a code of practice and ethics, and a disciplinary and complaints procedure (reputable organisations will have these in place)
ask the practitioner how many years of training they’ve had and how long they’ve been practising
ask what training they have done around complementary therapies and cancer
ask if they have indemnity insurance (in case of harm from complementary therapy side effects)
be careful not to be misled by false promises - no trustworthy therapist would ever claim to be able to cure cancer
remember that some health professionals, such as doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, are trained in complementary therapies – so it’s worth checking what services your hospital provides first.
How have we created this information?
Read our statement about how we have written and reviewed our information about complementary therapies.