The terms ‘alternative therapy’ and ‘complementary therapy’ are used to describe a range of treatments available from practitioners and therapists who work to treat the whole body, either alongside, or instead of, treatments offered by conventional medicine. To help make clear the differences in meaning, the following descrip¬tions are commonly accepted.
– Conventional medicine covers a range of treatments which your relative may have already received, including chemo- and radiotherapy, hormone treatment and surgery. These therapies have been widely used throughout the world for many years and have undergone expert clinical trials.
– Unconventional medicine covers a number of treatments that are widely used and, on the whole, widely respected. Included in this group are homeopathy and herbal medicine. Neither type is specifically used in cancer treatment and practitioners do not claim the medications used will cure cancer but the treatments may help to reduce the symptoms caused by the cancer and the side effects of orthodox treatments.
– Complementary therapies are intended to be used along¬side rather than to replace orthodox medicine; examples include physical treatments such as aromatherapy and reflex¬ology and treatments that benefit the person’s state of mind, such as counselling and psychotherapy. The treatments may be beneficial for yourself and your relative, as complementary therapies can help to combat tension and stress and give a wel¬come boost to your morale.
– Alternative therapies are usually held to be treatments that are given instead of conventional treatments. These therapies often involve regimens that attempt to treat the cancer direct, using non-medical methods; examples include specific diets and megavitamin therapy and treatments that try to boost the immune system. Most alternative treatments have not been subjected to clinical trials.
Many popular complementary treatments originated in the East and have been practised there for centuries. They rely on ancient knowledge linked to herbal remedies and traditional practices that are believed to stimulate the body’s own healing powers; acupunc¬ture from China and yoga from India are obvious examples. Some of the newer therapies appeal more to Western scientific minds and are used as aids to diagnosis as well as treatment. Two exam¬ples are colour therapy, that draws links between certain colours and mental harmony or stress, and iridology that examines the eyes for clues to hidden disorders.
All complementary and alternative treatments can be obtained without going to a medically trained doctor but this does not mean that an NHS or private doctor will not or cannot provide some complementary treatments; some doctors are dually trained and GPs are beginning to recommend the benefits of such therapies. Increasingly, complementary therapies are being introduced into the NHS and are available at cancer centres and GP practices, either free of charge or with a fee. Geographical location may affect your ability to find a suitable practitioner; ask at your local library or GP practice or cancer centre.
A note of caution: before using any complementary or alterna¬tive therapy with your relative, especially if they are undertaking other treatments such as chemotherapy, it is extremely important to consult with the oncologist. There are several reasons for seeking advice before starting a non-orthodox treatment: some therapies use extracts from plants that can have very powerful properties that may affect other treatments; the effort of being massaged may be too tiring for a weakened body; and some therapies use methods that have not been scientifically tested. There is some conflict of opinion between supporters of conventional medicine and support¬ers of alternative therapies; many doctors providing orthodox treatment are concerned that alternative therapies may be harmful. Patients sometimes reject conventional medicine and seek alterna¬tive remedies out of a false sense of hope and promises of amazing cures. There is no justifiable evidence that such cures exist and no reputable therapist would ever make such claims.