Complementary and Alternative Therapies
(Also called Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

Complementary and alternative therapies are "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine…” (National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), 2015). Basically, these therapies are not considered conventional or mainstream.

Individuals often use complementary and alternative therapies interchangeably. However, there is a major difference between them. Below are the definitions of conventional, complementary, alternative and integrative medicine. This will help you distinguish between these therapies if you’re considering them.

  • Conventional (Mainstream) Medicine- medical or surgical treatments that are accepted and practiced in the Canadian healthcare system. These treatments are based on research that renders them effective and safe.
  • Complementary Therapies- these are therapies used with or alongside conventional treatments. They are typically used to relieve side effects of conventional treatments.
  • Alternative Therapies- are therapies used instead of or in place of conventional treatments.
  • Integrative Therapies- using both conventional treatments with complimentary therapies that have shown scientific evidence on safety and effectiveness.

Below are a few examples of conventional, complementary and alternative therapies:

  • Conventional Medicine- chemotherapy, radiation therapy, prostatectomy etc.
  • Complementary and Alternative therapy- meditation, yoga, vitamins, special diets, massage etc.

It’s important that before you consider, complementary or integrative therapies you talk to you healthcare team regarding these options. Some of these therapies might interact negatively with your conventional treatments.

Alternative therapies are not research based and have not been shown effective or safe in treating cancer. Delaying or refusing conventional therapies to use alternative therapies may have serious health consequences. These may include, the cancer tumour growing or spreading to other parts of the body.

Listen to Dr. Lynda Balneaves Expert Angle Webinar titled “From Acupuncture to Zinc: The Role of Complementary Therapies in Prostate Cancer”


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