Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and meditation, can be used alongside conventional cancer treatment to improve quality of life. In this section, you’ll find information about different types of complementary therapies and how they might help you.

Complementary Therapies book
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Things to consider before using a complementary therapy

  • What are the benefits?
  • What is the scientific evidence to support its use?
  • What are the risks and possible side effects of the therapy?
  • Are there any interactions with other medicines I am taking?
  • Will the therapy potentially harm me because of the therapist’s advice to stop or delay conventional treatment?
  • Can I afford the cost of the therapy or medicines?
  • How long will I need to use the therapy for?

General questions to ask your treatment team

  • Are you familiar with complementary therapies or medicines?
  • Do you have any qualifications in complementary therapies?
  • Are there any complementary therapies you think might help me?
  • Would you be happy for me to use complementary therapies? If not, why and what should I do if I decide to use complementary therapies?
  • Do you know whether the complementary medicines I am taking or wish to take will interfere with any of my treatments?
  • Would you be willing to guide me in my choice of complementary therapies?
  • Would you be willing to talk to my complementary therapists?
  • Can you recommend any complementary therapists?
  • Does this hospital or treatment centre offer complementary therapies?
  • Can you give me a letter for my therapist outlining my treatment?

General questions to ask potential complementary therapists

  • What are your qualifications?
  • Are you a member of a professional association?
  • What training or experience do you have in treating people with cancer? Have you treated anyone with my type of cancer?
  • Do you practise in an integrative way with conventional health practitioners?
  • What exactly is the therapy? How does it work?
  • How can the therapy you practise help me? How long will it take to work?
  • Are there any specific precautions I should take?
  • Has the therapy been tested in clinical trials? Have the findings been published, and are they available to read?
  • Can this therapy be combined with conventional cancer treatment and medicines?
  • Do you expect me to stop my conventional medicines and treatments?
  • Are you willing to liaise with my doctors or any other health professionals I may need to see?
  • How will I know the therapy is working?
  • Are you able to do home visits if I am not well enough to attend your clinic?
  • What do you charge for a consultation? Can I claim the cost on Medicare or from my health fund?
  • How long are your consultations? What can I expect during a consultation?
  • How many consultations do you recommend, and how often?
  • Do you dispense your own medicines and supplements?
  • How much can I expect to pay for medicines?
  • Have the products or medicines you dispense been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration?
  • What side effects may occur?

Questions to ask about specific therapies

Mind–body techniques

  • What type of therapist would you recommend for my concerns?
  • Can you refer me to a psychologist or counsellor?

Body-based practices

  • Are there any forms of massage or bodywork that would help me?
  • Are there any forms of massage or bodywork I shouldn’t have?
  • Are there any areas on my body where a massage therapist or acupuncturist needs to take special care?
  • What precautions, if any, should I take?
  • Would I be able to participate in qi gong, tai chi or yoga?
  • What level of exercise intensity would be suitable for me?
  • Can you provide me with a letter giving your approval for me to have masage or other bodywork therapy?

Therapies based on diet

  • Are there any general dietary changes I should make?
  • Should I eat organic foods?
  • Are there any vitamin or mineral supplements that will help manage specific side effects caused by conventional treatment?
  • Should I be taking any particular nutritional supplements?
  • What can I eat to improve my digestion and bowel movements?
  • Are there any foods or supplements that I should definitely have, or definitely avoid, during and after cancer treatment?
  • Should I see a dietitian or a nutritionist?

Therapies using herbs and plants

  • Are there any herbs you would recommend during or after cancer treatment?
  • What dosage should I take? Does it have side effects?
  • Are there any herbs I shouldn’t take because of my medicines, surgery or other conventional treatments?
  • If I use herbal medicine, when should I take it in relation to my other medicines or conventional treatments? Is it okay to use at the same time or should I take it at a different time?
  • Do you think using flower remedies or homeopathy would benefit me?
  • Will I have any side effects from homeopathy remedies?

Questions about joining a clinical trial

  • What therapies are being tested and why?
  • What tests are involved?
  • Can I take part in the trial while having conventional treatment?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects?
  • What are the possible benefits?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Who can I contact if problems occur while I am in the trial?
  • Can I be paid back for any out-of-pocket expenses?
  • Who is funding the trial? Has it been approved by an ethics committee?
  • Have the researchers declared any conflicts of interest? How will these e managed?

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