Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)


If you are interested in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments, you’re not alone. Many patients look for approaches to “add to” or “complement” treatment for colorectal cancer, especially when looking for ways to feel better.

There are both beneficial and harmful CAM methods. Before you begin any of these alternative treatments, you need to understand how they are different, and how they might affect your treatment. If you are considering complementary or alternative approaches, be sure to discuss this first with your doctor.

CAM approaches, especially supplements or pills, are not recommended to treat colon or rectal cancer since, so far, no alternative method has been proven either safe or effective by conclusive scientific evidence. CAM approaches may be dangerous or even deadly; some are harmful to patients undergoing standard treatment for cancer. Others may interfere with the action of chemotherapy or drugs used to treat side effects.

Types of CAM

Complementary medicine

Complementary medicine is used together with conventional medicine. An example of a complementary therapy is using aromatherapy to help lessen a patient’s discomfort following surgery.

Alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is used in place of conventional medicine. An example of an alternative therapy is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor.

Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine combines treatments from conventional medicine and CAM for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Beneficial vs. Harmful CAM Methods

Beneficial CAM methods:


Has been shown to help patients reduce feelings of pain and nausea, and may improve joint mobility

Meditation and guided imagery

Can provide comfort and stress reduction

Tai chi

Beneficial for relieving pain and improving the ability to walk and move

Potentially Harmful methods:

St. John’s Wort

This herb (sometimes taken for depression) can interfere with the cancer drug irinotecan.

Comfrey & Kava

The herbs comfrey and kava can cause serious harm to the liver.

Fish Oil Supplements

Patients in treatment have been advised to not take fish oil supplements, as this can interfere with the effectiveness of your chemotherapy

Questions to Ask to Determine if CAM is Right for You

Before you begin utilizing a complementary or alternative therapy, ask the following questions:

  • Is it safe? How do you know it’s safe?
  • Is there any evidence that it is effective for your purpose? What’s the evidence? Is it a clinical trial or simply anecdotal stories? Is clinical evidence based on human tests?
  • Are you certain that what is listed on the label is actually what is in the bottle?

Always discuss your plan with your doctor.

Mind-body practices that can reduce stress & anxiety

The following practices may reduce stress in the body. Consider these ways to naturally reduce anxiety.


Focused breathing or repetition of words or phrases to quiet the mind


A state of relaxed and focused attention in which the patient concentrates on a certain feeling, idea, or suggestion to aid in healing


Systems of stretches and poses, with special attention given to breathing


Imagining scenes, pictures, or experiences to help the body heal

Creative outlets

Such as art, music, or dance

Content medically-reviewed by members of the Fight Colorectal Cancer Medical Advisory Board, February 2014

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