Can I help myself or should I see a professional?

One of the reasons people with cancer use complementary therapies is because it helps them take an active role in their health.

Some simple ways people can help themselves, without the guidance of a professional, include learning gentle massage or acupressure techniques, adding essential oils to their bath, meditating, or drinking herbal tea.

Some people may consider self-prescribing herbs or nutritional supplements. Although this may seem like a cheaper alternative, it may not be safe.

The benefits of seeing a professional complementary therapist are that they:

  • are qualified in the therapy or medicine you are considering
  • have an objective view of your case
  • have experience treating a range of conditions and may have treated other people with cancer
  • are able to liaise with your clinicians, as necessary
  • can prepare a tailor-made treatment plan and dispense remedies based on your individual needs, if they are qualified to do so
  • can help you avoid the health risks of using complementary therapies that may interact with conventional cancer treatment.

Many websites offer a range of complementary medicines that may be less expensive than those you can purchase in Australia.

However, the safety and quality regulations that apply to commercial products sold in Australia do not cover products purchased from overseas. See Key questions for more on this.

Keeping your health care providers informed

It is important that you let your primary health care providers (e.g. GP, nurses, specialists) know you are considering using complementary therapies. This will help reduce the risk of adverse reactions.

Studies show that most people with cancer who use complementary therapies don’t discuss this with their primary health care providers because they worry their doctors will disapprove.

The use of complementary therapies to manage a range of health conditions is growing, so many primary health care providers are now better informed about them and are often supportive of their use. Some doctors and nurses have also been trained in complementary therapies and are able to give you accurate information about them.

It is important to discuss your interest in complementary therapies with your doctors and nurses, even if they aren’t supportive of their use. It allows them to consider your safety and wellbeing.

For example, your surgeon, oncologist or radiation therapist may have specific concerns, such as not using particular creams or medicines at certain times during your treatment. If you are taking herbs or nutritional supplements, they may suggest you stop taking these before, during or after particular treatments.

To keep your doctors and nurses better informed, ask your complementary therapist to provide a letter outlining the type of therapy you are receiving.

It is also important to tell your complementary therapist that you have cancer, and advise them of the treatment you’re having.

This information was last reviewed in May 2015
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