Conventional, complementary and alternative therapy
Complementary therapies are usually used alongside conventional therapies.
Back to top
Conventional therapies are the medical treatments doctors use to treat people with cancer. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal and biological therapies are all conventional treatments.
Complementary therapies and alternative therapies, or CAM
Back to top
Complementary and alternative therapies or CAM (complementary and alternative medicines) are other treatments sometimes used by people with cancer. These treatments are often grouped together, but there can be important differences between them based on how and why they are used. Often a treatment can be complementary if used in one way and alternative if used in another.
Complementary therapies are usually used alongside conventional therapies. They aren’t used to cure cancer. Instead, they are used to boost physical or emotional health. They may also be used to help relieve the symptoms of cancer or the side effects of conventional treatments. Complementary medicine is also sometimes called integrated or integrative medicine.
While complementary therapies are generally used in addition to conventional treatments, the term alternative therapy is often used to refer to treatments that are used in place of conventional treatments.
Some alternative therapies claim to actively treat or even cure cancer, but no alternative therapies have been proven to cure cancer or slow its growth.
Conventional treatments for cancer are scientifically tested and researched so that their safety, effectiveness and possible side effects are known. However, alternative therapies don’t go through the same rigorous testing. This means that their benefits in treating cancer are unclear and some alternative therapies may even be harmful. Using an alternative therapy instead of conventional cancer treatment could reduce the chance of your cancer being cured or controlled.
How have we created this information?
Read our statement about how we have written and reviewed our information about complementary therapies.