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Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Last Update: 07/24/2018

Introduction | Topic Index and Main Topics |
In the News  | INDEX of topics: A to Z

Related topic pages: Common Myths | Evaluating Medical Claims | The problems with testimonials

Natural "remedies" - Caveats of Dietary Supplements | The Skeptic's CaseResources & Research News
CAM Survey | CAM Links  |

NEW REPORT and Discussion:

Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers | Oncology | JAMA Oncology | JAMA Network http://bit.ly/2JNe7Up 

Alternative medicine the “complementary” edition – Science-Based Medicine http://bit.ly/2JPbpO3

Firstly, we wholeheartedly support and encourage practices that can help you, the patient or caregiver, to improve your fitness and general health.  Notably, wise changes in diet and exercise can  help you to achieve this and is associated with improved survival.

This topic is mainly about the types of medicines or practices that may be prescribed or promoted to treat lymphoma and disease-related symptoms. 

We believe that the word "medicine" should be reserved for interventions that have proven to be effective in clinical trials.  Without standards for medical claims (or what we call medicine) we'd have millions of choices but no basis for making an informed choice.

stands for Complementary and Alternative "medicine."  CAM is an umbrella term for practices that are not generally given by mainstream medical doctors. 
Here we describe CAM practices along with medical practices used to treat disease and disease-related symptoms.  

Complementary practices

These are practices that are sometimes a part of mainstream medical care, such as to help improve general health or to help to relieve symptoms. 

Yoga for pain or stress relief is an example.  Exercise to help manage fatigue is another.  Such activities are sometimes called integrative medicine when used by medical doctors. 

Alternative practices

These are theory-based practices that are used to replace mainstream medical care.   The promotions of alternative cancer practices are typically based on implausible scientific theories (pseudoscience), testimonials and conspiracy theories

Alternative practices can have low to significant direct risks to the patient. Tragic outcomes can result from delaying proven therapies.  These can also be expensive - draining families of their life savings despite having no basis for the claims that are made.

Note: 3 in 5 adults will have a diagnosis of cancer.  All people (even persons with a strong intelligence and excellence in their fields) are vulnerable to claims about non-toxic alternative cures.  Steve Jobs, for example, unwisely chose alternative practices at a time when he had a real chance to effectively treat his cancer.  Doctors, regulators, scientists also get cancer.  There is no conspiracy to suppress cures from you or their loved ones.

Evidence-based medicine

These are medical practices that are based on scientific discovery that have been proven by clinical testing to provide clinical benefit  - defined as living a longer life or by improving quality of life. 

These pre-defined (prospective) tests of the treatments (clinical trials) are carried out in patients who have the disease.  The results are reviewed by peers and independent regulatory agencies.   In the assessment the improvement in the condition (benefit) must outweigh the risks and side effects of the practice.

The prospective design of clinical trials helps to measure the rate of outcomes, such as response rate, and also the expected duration of response, side effects, and survival - for others.  Such as 30/100 responses.  A key principles of evidence-based medicine is to evaluate a treatment in  ways that predict the results for others.  Such as:

* Use of study design of sufficient size and uniform eligibility
* Pre-specifying the intervention (prospective design): the patient population, the number of participants (the denominator), how and when the outcomes will be measured, and the result that warrants approval 
* Reproducibility of the outcomes by other groups (verification)

Note:  Some medical conditions are difficult to treat effectively even with evidence-based medicines.   In some cases the goal of treatment can shift to best supportive care or palliative care - where the intent is to improve quality of life and to manage symptoms.

Best practice can be controversial, such when standard approaches that have side effects are not expected to help to control the disease and its symptoms.  In such cases, no treatment can be wise, or the consideration of clinical trials that are testing therapies that may work in other ways.


Clinical trials - investigational interventions

These are tests of study drugs or other interventions that have not proven to be effective or better than a standard approach to treating a medical condition.  To be approved for testing in humans, the investigational practice must be based on plausible science and carried out with careful oversight to minimize risks to the study participants - starting with finding the optimal safe dose.

Note: without clinical trials there can be no reliable advances in the practice of medicine to treat disease.  PAL urges patients to consider clinical trials routinely -- ideally with the help of an independent specialist in the field to help you to determine if a study might be appropriate for your unique clinical circumstance. 

See Trial Talk for a list of lymphoma specialists you might consult about trials as part of a second opinion.

Preventative practices and medicines

These are changes to life style that may reduce the risk of developing some kinds of disease. Most everyone agrees that preventive practices (adopting a healthful diet, increasing our exercise, cessation of smoking) are keys to better performance, decreasing the incidence of many diseases, and lowering medical costs.

Some obvious targets of such efforts would be the tobacco and food industries, but also public education. 

Popular Topics: Diet and exercise | Turmeric?

On Levels of Evidence

Credible Resources


About Science
and "Alternative" Health Methods


Cancer information and the Internet: Benefits and Risks, Maurie Markman, MD


Cancer myths


Natural "remedies"
- Caveats of Dietary Supplements as treatment for any cancer


Conspiracy Theory? | Slide


Consumer Health Digest  ncahf.org


Dose - the importance of getting it right


Is it reputable?  - a checklist for judging online information PDF


Elements of evidence   ... C-P-R: Credibility, Plausibility, Reproducibility. http://bit.ly/evidenceCPR 


Evaluating medical claims and data  


Mouse model?  A mouse is not a man (or women), by Bill Rose  PAL


Red Flags and Free Speech


Is it Reputable? ... PDF   | Slide



bullet Questionable Cancer Therapies, Stephen Barrett, M.D. quackwatch.org

When Lay Persons Give Medical Advice


BCC guidance on CAM Below


Consumer Report on Herbs and Supplements consumerreports.org


Dietary Supplements in Patients With Cancer: Risks and Key Concepts
Technical: Part I  Part II (Medscape)


HerbMed® herbmed.org 


Herbs & Supplements  alleghanyregional 


Herbs or Natural Products That May Cause Cancer and Harm, Part Four Muriel J. Montbriand, PhD, RN - ons.org 


How Quackery Harms Cancer Patients
William T. Jarvis, Ph.D. http://bit.ly/28PlmwZ


Linus Pauling Institute  lpi.oregonstate.edu/


Medicines from the Earth


MEDLINEplus: Alternative Medicine (National Library of Medicine)


MEDLINEplus: Herbs and Supplements 


Natural Products for Cancer Treatment


NIH Office of Dietary Supplements

Questionable Cancer Therapies, Stephen Barrett, M.D. quackwatch.org

Vitamins umm.edu/




Drug/Supplement Interaction Checker drugreax.epnet 


Complementary and Alternative Medicine Online Continuing Education Series Video Lectures


CAM studies recruiting patients ClinicalTrials.gov 


Use of Complementary/Integrative Nutritional Therapies During Cancer Treatment: Implications in Clinical Practice Medscape


NCI Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine

To avoid potential adverse interactions
be sure to let your health care provider know 
if you use supplements when receiving therapy.

In the News

Why one naturopath quit after watching her peers treat cancer patients - http://bit.ly/1M1EmWp
FDA issues warning to controversial Houston cancer doctor http://usat.ly/IRdWYg
* Respectful Insolence 2013:
The drip, drip, drip, drip of FDA findings against Stanislaw Burzynski continues http://bit.ly/19jSaqU
J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013
Ginseng for cancer-related fatigue  - randomized trial http://1.usa.gov/1fRx2HP
American Journal of Gastroenterology: Efficacy of an Encapsulated Probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome http://bit.ly/18hIiQ5
Link Between High Blood Levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Increased Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer Confirmed
Pot for medicinal purposes?  adai.uw.edu
Please first review the respiratory effects of marijuana
Science Based Medicine:
What’s in your supplement? http://bit.ly/11Uvfu8
Sunrise Rounds: Choosing Alternative Medicine
CA Cancer J Clin 2012: Nutrition and physical
activity guidelines for cancer survivors   | PDF version


Natural "remedies" - Caveats of Dietary Supplements


Move to it's own topic page:  Natural Supplements - Caveats


Anonymous & Confidential 4-question CAM SURVEY
 for lymphoma survivors or caregivers

Purpose:  To can better meet needs when we understand the community we serve - details

After you complete the survey you will see a list of what you selected.  
When you return to this form, you are done.

Basic information:
  1. a) You are a  lymphoma survivor, OR caregiver (providing input for another)
    b) Gender of person diagnosed:                                                                                          
    c) Age at diagnosis:                                                                                           
    d) Approximate time since diagnosis:                                                                                        
    e) Grade of lymphoma (choose one):  
       indolent (slow growing) 
Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM):

alternative medicine - non-mainstream substitutes for treatment
complementary medicine - practices used to improve quality of life, 
such as yoga

  1. You believe that herbs, supplements, and other life style practices CAN directly change 
    the course of the disease 
    (Yes, Likely, Don't know, Unlikely, No)
  2. You consider testimonials (experiences related by individuals) to be reliable 
    evidence of the merits of CAM practices. 
    (Yes, Not sure, No)
  3. You feel that there could be a conspiracy in the medical establishment to undermine 
    the credibility of CAM practices for cancers. 
    (Yes, Not sure, No)

 Click Submit to complete the survey.  Thank you for participating!


Return to top

The Skeptic's Case 

Medical experts speaking out against Unproven Therapies for Cancers

Spontaneous Remission and the Placebo Effect, Stephen Barrett, M.D. Quackwatch.org 
Recovery from illness, whether it follows self-medication, treatment by a scientific practitioner, or treatment by an unscientific practitioner, may lead individuals to conclude that the treatment received was the cause of the return to good health.

Respectful Insolence by Surgeon/ Scientist Orac 
"A statement of fact cannot be insolent." The miscellaneous ramblings of a surgeon/scientist on medicine, quackery, science, pseudoscience, history, and pseudohistory (and anything else that interests him

Respectful Insolence

Alternative Therapies for Curing Cancer: What Do Patients Want? What Do Patients Need? 
Wendy S. Harpham, MD (NHL survivor) amcancersoc.org
"Patients who don’t understand the difference between information based on theory, anecdote, historical analysis, or double-blind placebo controlled studies are making ill-informed decisions, believing alternative therapies are safer or more effective when they are not. Even patients who presume that alternative therapies are ineffective may use them. Why? When faced with a life-threatening disease requiring highly toxic treatments with no guarantees, or when dying because there are no effective conventional treatments, it takes guts to reject something or someone claiming to be able to save you, just in case you might be wrong." 

The Alternative Universe, By Wallace Sampson, MD geomag.gfdi.fsu.edu 
... "modern medicine's integrity is being eroded by New Age mysticism, cult-like schemes, ideologies, and classical quackery, all known as "alternative medicine." Using obscure language and misleading claims, they promote changes that would propel medicine back five centuries or more. They would supplant objectivity and reason with myths, feelings, hunches and sophistry. 

NCCAM is being presented as a scientific vehicle to study alternative medicine's anomalous methods. But NCCAM actually promotes the movement by assuming that false and implausible claims are legitimate things to study."

Debunking cancer myths: An interview with a Mayo Clinic specialist mayoclinic.com/
Medical myths not only mislead but also may hamper proper treatment. Find out why these common cancer myths are wrong.  Highly recommended reading.

NEW: Boosting your immune system to fight cancer?  http://bit.ly/1euzrK 

Consumer Health Digest  ncahf.org 
"NCAHF is a private nonprofit, voluntary health agency that focuses upon health misinformation, fraud, and quackery as public health problems. Our positions are based upon the principles of science that underlie consumer protection law. We advocate: (a) adequate disclosure in labeling and other warranties to enable consumers to make truly informed choices; (b) premarketing proof of safety and effectiveness for products and services claimed to prevent, alleviate, or cure any health problem; and, (c) accountability for those who violate the law."

2006 Archive | 2005 Archive | 2004 Archive | 2003 Archive | 2002 Archive | 2001 Archive
Subscribe to CH Digest | NCAHF Home Page | Search All of Our Affiliated Sites

Caring (Really) for Patients Who Use Alternative Therapies for Cancer  jco.org
"The reasons why people seek alternative therapies for cancer are broad. Many seek out alternative therapy when options for conventional therapy have been exhausted. There is also the recognition that, for some tumor systems, conventional therapy is of limited effectiveness and that the side effects of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are feared. For some tumor systems, no conventional therapy exists and the standard therapy is participation in phase I or phase II trials. Many patients perceive that the conventional approach is emotionally or spiritually empty and provides neither comfort nor solace."

Science-Based Medicine
Exploring issues and controversies in the relationship between science and medicine

Interpreting Medical Literature

Other Resources  & Research News

Mediators Inflamm. 2014; 2014
Plant-Derived Anti-Inflammatory Compounds: Hopes and Disappointments regarding Translation of Preclinical Knowledge http://1.usa.gov/1Mm2qS2
Vitamin Reports from Randomized Trials - Cautionary tales
CAM - Medlexicon: Fasting May Boost Chemo By Weakening Cancer Cells

“The study shows that five out of eight cancer types in mice
[also\ responded to fasting alone: it slowed the growth and spread
and of tumors.” (showing the limitation of animal models)
J Altern Complement Med. 2008 - The Status and
Future of Acupuncture Clinical Research
Exercise - Medscape: Treatment for Cancer Patients Should Include It
Burzynski Clinic in Science-blogger's crosshairs  PAL
Skeptoid- Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomenon: Boost Your
Immune System (or Not) -Is "boosting your immune system"
for real? Is that possible, and can you really buy it in a bottle?
Cancer Prevention, Naturally http://bit.ly/cfSFJR
AACR 2009: Oncologists Should Recommend Exercise, But Not Supplements medscape.com

There is accumulating evidence to show that it can improve both prognosis and quality of life

BC Cancer Agency: Guidance on unconventional therapies bccancer.bc.cam 
Cancer patients conceal alternative meds nlm.nih.gov
Ethical considerations of complementary and alternative medical therapies  in conventional medical settings.  Ann Intern Med. 2002  PubMed
Facts About Dietary Supplement NIH

A Cancer Patient’s Guide to Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Heather L. Morein University of California San Diego School of Medicine 
Independent Study Project, April 2002 (Large 168 pg document)  PDF
Use of Complementary/Integrative Nutritional Therapies During Cancer Treatment: Implications in Clinical Practice - Medscape 2002 H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, Inc.
Disclaimer:  The information on Lymphomation.org is not intended to be a substitute for 
professional medical advice or to replace your relationship with a physician.
For all medical concerns, you should always consult your doctor. 
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