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Complementary therapy fact sheet

  • Complementary and alternative and medicines are used for preventing and treating disease. They have been used in other countries for centuries, but are not taught widely in medical schools in the United States. Complementary therapies may include exercise, prayer, nutrition, homeopathy, acupuncture, Qigong, massage, Reiki, and chiropractic care. Some cancer patients look to complementary therapies to ease their symptoms and improve their quality of life while undergoing standard treatment.

    Western medicine has only recently begun to recognize the value of some forms of complementary therapy before, during and after conventional cancer treatment as a viable treatment for symptom management and quality of life.

    The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) within the National Institutes of Health has developed an international presence in the field of complementary and alternative medicine. It oversees many research projects in the United States. Its mission is to explore complementary and alternative medicine healing practices by evaluating them carefully and educating the public about these therapies and scientific findings.

    The National Cancer Institute’s office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) coordinates all complementary and alternative medicine activities for the National Cancer Institute.

    Because most practices are unregulated, it's difficult to know which complementary therapies may be helpful in your treatment plan. The staff at the Zakim Center for Integrated Therapies can provide appropriate advice to help you distinguish between the various forms of complementary medicine.

    What do complementary therapies cost?

    Most complementary therapies are not paid for by insurance. Some insurances will cover acupuncture and chiropractic services. Reimbursement by third-party insurance carriers varies by state. Most complementary therapies are reasonably priced.

    Special points to remember

    • Anyone who practices complementary medicine should be licensed or certified.
    • You should always talk to your doctor about any complementary therapies you're interested in trying.

    For further information and services offered through the Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies at Dana-Farber, please call 617-632-5570.

  • Integrative Therapies