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Complementary and Alternative Medicine

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What Is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)?

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Dr. Jeffrey D. White, OCCAM Director, explains the use of complementary and alternative medicine in cancer.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard medical care. "Complementary medicine" refers to treatments that are used with standard treatment. "Alternative medicine" refers to treatments that are used instead of standard treatment.

Standard treatments are based on scientific evidence from research studies. While claims made by CAM treatment providers about their benefits can sound promising, we do not know how safe many CAM treatments are or how well they work. Studies are under way to determine the safety and usefulness of many cancer-related CAM practices. NCI's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) supports many of these studies.

Overview of CAM Approaches

Alternative Medical Systems

Acupuncture and other traditional Chinese medicine approaches, healing systems, and beliefs that have evolved over time in different cultures and parts of the world for use in cancer and other conditions.

Mind-Body Methods

Healing methods based on the belief that the mind can affect the body's response to cancer. These methods may help reduce side effects from treatment and improve physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Nutritional Methods

Special diets or supplements sometimes used in the treatment of people with cancer. Examples that may benefit cancer patients are coenzyme Q10 and antioxidants.

Pharmacologic and Biologic Treatments

The use of prescription drugs in a way not originally intended; vaccines, hormones, natural products (also called botanicals), and other biologic treatments used in the treatment of people with cancer. Herbal extracts and other herbs are also included.

CAM News and Resources

News articles and other information on CAM topics related to cancer prevention, treatment, or symptom management.