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Complementary therapies are treatments that are used along with standard medical care for a disease or illness. In pediatric cancer, complementary therapies are used to treat symptoms or side effects of cancer or cancer treatments.
General types of complementary therapies used to help children with cancer include:
Some complementary therapies may interfere with medical treatment or cause adverse reactions. As a rule, always check with the care team before using any complementary therapy.
Complementary therapies are used to help with a variety of cancer symptoms and side effects. These include:
Some therapies have been well-studied and have significant research to support their use. Examples include relaxation, guided imagery, and biofeedback. Yoga and other mind/body exercises have also been widely studied. Other therapies have very little science to support their use, and risks and benefits are largely unknown.
Compared to traditional medicine, less is known about how and why these therapies work, especially in children with cancer. Some ways that different therapies might act include:
There is a general lack of evidence-based research using complementary therapies in pediatric cancer. However, there is some agreement that:
Patients vary in how they respond to a complementary therapy. Some complementary therapies can also have serious side effects. Talk to the medical team before trying any complementary therapy, even if it is something the patient has used before.
Before trying any complementary therapy, families should have answers to these important questions:
Many types of complementary therapies are safe and effective for children with cancer. But families need to take them as seriously as they would a traditional treatment or medication. Just because a product can be bought over the counter, does not mean it is safe. In fact, more care is needed because the treatments don’t have the same regulations or standards.
Complementary therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage, biofeedback, and yoga should be given by a qualified health professional with appropriate certifications and licenses. A provider should also have experience working with children with cancer.
Specific risks of complementary therapies include:
Complementary and alternative therapies are often described together as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). But they are actually distinct practices.
Families should be honest and open about complementary therapies.
The medical team can help families:
Reviewed: June 2018