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Integrative medicine includes natural, mind-body approaches to care for patients and families. In childhood and adolescent cancer, integrative therapies may help manage symptoms and side effects.
Integrative medicine is not used to treat the cancer itself but may work with cancer treatment to improve a patient’s quality of life. There is no evidence that any integrative medicine approach can cure cancer or cause it to go into remission.
Integrative therapies fall into 3 main categories, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Natural products include herbs, vitamins and minerals, probiotic products, and other dietary supplements. There is very little data about combining these products with conventional chemotherapy in children.
These products are not recommended for children and teens during cancer treatment. They could cause cancer treatments not to work as well. They may cause allergies or other adverse events. Children’s small size and developing organs make them more vulnerable than adults. A weakened immune system can also increase risk.
You are encouraged to discuss questions about specific supplements with your child’s doctor.
Mind and body practices include:
Mind and body practices can often help children with symptoms such as worry and stress. Most are low risk. But always check with first with your child’s doctor.
Some integrative approaches don’t fit into either category. These include traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (traditional medicine from India).
Integrative therapies may also help with:
Some ways that different therapies might act include:
Many types of integrative 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 you can buy a product over the counter, does not mean it is safe.
Specific risks of integrative therapies include:
Substances ingested or absorbed through the skin:
Integrative therapies should be given by a qualified health professional with appropriate certifications and licenses.
A provider should also have experience working with children with cancer.
Families are encouraged to talk with their care team about integrative therapies.
The medical team can help families:
Reviewed: June 2021