Complementary and alternative therapies (CAM) is a broad category that consists of non-surgical treatments from the field of non-conventional therapy. The goal of CAM is to ease symptoms or increase your survival rate with treatments that target the state of your physical, mental and emotional health as a single unit.
Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the availability of medical approaches that aren’t mainstream. In fact, billions of dollars are spent by consumers every year on CAM. When referring to complementary and alternative therapies, it should be noted that there is a difference between the terms complementary and alternative. The American Cancer Society1 provides a definition for each term.
Complementary therapy (aka integrative) refers to methods that improve a person’s condition by decreasing the severity of symptoms. They are often performed in conjunction with conventional treatments for palliative reasons, not curative. For example, acupuncture may relieve nausea and yoga may help improve a person’s mental state.
Alternative therapy refers to methods that take the place of conventional treatments and may be presented as curative. For example, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been presented as a way to cure cancer. However, there is no formal research to prove that it is a viable option. Any clinical trials on TCM have been done when it complements conventional treatments.
Approach with caution
There hasn’t been as much formal research conducted on the effectiveness of CAM therapies when compared to conventional therapy in the US. In addition, practitioners may not be as regulated as licensed medical professionals. Regardless, more and more patients have become attracted to non-mainstream medicine. Before considering non-conventional treatments, make sure to talk to your doctor for their advice.
Examples of CAM treatments
Acupuncture: Inserting fine needles at specific points of your body to affect the flow of energy. (If needles are not used and only external pressure is applied, this is called acupressure).
Aromatherapy: Improving mental, emotional and physical well-being with aromatic oils derived from natural sources.
Homeopathy: The administration of naturally derived medicines to support symptoms, allowing your body to heal itself.
Dietary therapy: Following a diet plan that includes food and drink to strengthen the body.
Yoga: A meditative approach to breathing, a series of body movements and postures.