Complementary Therapies and Clinical Trials

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 12/2018

Complementary therapies can help reduce symptoms and side effects of standard cancer treatment.

People have been using some of these therapies for centuries. But the research on them is fairly new.

Today, researchers study complementary therapies through clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies that involve people.

Researching complementary therapies

A clinical trial uses the scientific method to study a specific therapy. This helps doctors discover if it is helpful, not helpful, or harmful to people with cancer.

For example, clinical trials have shown that:

  • Acupuncture can relieve pain associated with cancer. It can also reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.

  • The herb St. John’s wort can make some types of chemotherapy more toxic or less effective.

Clinical trials have also shown that alternative methods do not help people with cancer. For instance, a clinical trial studied adding shark cartilage extract to standard lung cancer treatment. This alternative method did not lengthen the lives of patients.

Evaluating clinical trial options

You can use a searchable online database to find a complementary therapy clinical trial. Talk with your health care team about potential matches for your treatment plan. Some complementary therapies may not work well with your type of cancer treatment. Or they may have other side effects.

Consider asking these questions before enrolling in a clinical trial:

  • What is the clinical trial's goal?

  • How will the complementary therapy be provided and evaluated?

  • How does the complementary therapy differ from standard treatment?

  • What are the potential risks and benefits of the complementary therapy?

  • How does this clinical trial fit within my standard treatment options?

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