Complementary therapies

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The terms 'complementary therapy' and 'alternative therapy' are often used as if they meant the same thing. They are both terms used for treatments that are not part of conventional medicine.

Many expert believe these definitions are confusing and all medicines should be classified and those which work and those which don't work.If you are considering complementary therapies it is important to consult an experinced registered practitioner. This page explains some of the terms concerning therapies and with point you in the direction of therapies if you want to explore these therapies further. 


Complementary refers to supportive methods that are used to complement, or add to, mainstream treatments. Examples might include meditation to reduce stress, peppermint tea for nausea, and acupuncture for chronic back pain. Complementary methods are not given to cure disease, rather they may help control symptoms and improve well-being. Some of the methods, such as massage therapy, yoga, and meditation, that are categorized as complementary have actually been referred to as supportive care in the past.

Integrative therapy is a term that refers to the combined offering of evidence-based mainstream and complementary therapies.

The term unproven or untested can be confusing because it is sometimes used to refer to treatments with little basis in scientific fact, while it may also refer to treatments or tests that are under investigation. Adequate scientific evidence is not available to support its use.

Alternative refers to treatments that are promoted as cancer cures. They are unproven because they have not been scientifically tested, or were tested and found to be ineffective. If used instead of evidence-based treatment, the patient may suffer, either from lack of helpful treatment or because the alternative treatment is actually harmful.

Quackery refers to the promotion of methods that claim to prevent, diagnose, or cure cancers that are known to be false, or which are unproven. These methods are based on the use of patient testimonials as evidence of its efficacy and safety. Often the treatment is claimed to be effective in other diseases as well as cancer.

Safety issues 

Drug interactions of complementary therapies with conventional drugs

Complementary therapy organisations


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