Complementary and Alternative Medicine in
What is complementary and alternative medicine?
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), as defined by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), is a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. Conventional medicine is medicine as practiced by holders of M.D. (medical doctor) or D.O. (doctor of osteopathy) degrees and by their allied health professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists, and registered nurses. Other terms for conventional medicine include allopathy; Western, mainstream, orthodox, and regular medicine; and biomedicine. Some conventional medical practitioners are also practitioners of CAM.
This fact sheet answers some frequently asked questions about the use of CAM therapies among the general public, and about how CAM approaches are evaluated, and suggests sources for further information.
Are complementary and alternative therapies widely used?
Several surveys of CAM use by cancer patients have been conducted with small numbers of patients. One study published in the February 2000 issue of the journal Cancer reported that 37 percent of 46 patients with prostate cancer used one or more CAM therapies as part of their cancer treatment. These therapies included herbal remedies, vitamins, and special diets.
A larger study of CAM use in patients with different types of cancer was published in the July 2000 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. This study found that 69 percent of 453 cancer patients had used at least one CAM therapy as part of their cancer treatment. Additional information about CAM use among cancer patients can be found in a review article published in Seminars in Oncology in December 2002.
How are CAM approaches evaluated?
Conventional approaches to cancer treatment have generally been studied for safety and effectiveness through a rigorous scientific process that includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients. Less is known about the safety and effectiveness of complementary and alternative methods. Some CAM therapies have undergone rigorous evaluation. A small number of CAM therapies originally considered to be purely alternative approaches are finding a place in cancer treatment-not as cures, but as complementary therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example is acupuncture. According to a panel of experts at a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Conference in November 1997, acupuncture has been found to be effective in the management of chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and in controlling pain associated with surgery. In contrast, some approaches, such as the use of laetrile, have been studied and found ineffective or potentially harmful.
What is the Best Case Series Program?
Are the NCI and NCCAM sponsoring clinical trials in complementary and alternative medicine?
acupuncture to reduce the symptoms of advanced colorectal cancer,
The NCI, NCCAM, and OCCAM clinical trials databases offer patients, family members, and health professionals information about research studies that use CAM. Clinical trials can be found by searching:
The NCI's PDQ® Clinical Trials Database-The PDQ Clinical Trials database can be searched at http://www.cancer.gov/clinicaltrials/ using such criteria as cancer type, type of trial, geographic region, trial sponsorship, and/or drug name. This information is also available by calling the NCI's Cancer Information Service (see below).
What should patients do when using or considering complementary and alternative therapies?