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Integrative medicine is a term many may not be familiar with, even if the practices it refers to are commonly known.

The phrases “integrative medicine,” “complementary medicine,” “integrative health” and “complementary health” are used to describe a group of therapies with which most are familiar. Depending on the situation, it might be yoga, meditation, massage, supplements or acupuncture, to name a few.

Some types of integrative medicine have proven beneficial for symptom management and for those going through disease treatment, including cancer patients. Initial results of scientific studies have shown that massage therapy, acupuncture and yoga help cancer patients in the management of symptoms related to their treatment. And because these therapies can sometimes provide an alternative to pharmaceutical options, they are appealing to the medical community and patients alike.

Clinical practice guidelines around integrative medicine therapies for breast cancer patients were established in June 2017. The guidelines give medical providers recommendations to help patients during treatment to reduce anxiety, depression and improve overall quality of life. Nausea and vomiting also may be reduced through these therapies.

It’s important that health-care providers know about all therapies a patient might be using, even if they are not directly associated with the cancer. Integrative medicine therapies may interfere with treatment or could pose special risks, especially when cancer is involved. People with cancer should talk with their medical providers to make sure all aspects of their care, integrative and traditional alike, work together.

If you or a family member are considering or using integrative medicine therapy while going through cancer treatment, talk with your health-care provider.

Questions to ask include:

  • What is known about the benefits and risks of this therapy or product? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • Will this therapy interfere with my treatment plan?
  • Can you refer me to an integrative medicine practitioner?

Health-care providers and researchers are still learning about integrative medicine therapies and the benefit or harm they entail, and new information, especially in cancer care, emerges every day.

It is important to tell all your health-care providers about any integrative therapies you use. It gives them a full picture of what you do to manage your health – and helps to ensure coordinated and safe care for you.

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