Standards for Safety and Effectiveness in Complementary Techniques

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Although many complementary medicine techniques have been used for centuries, the availability of scientific data on many of these techniques has been limited. However, researchers supported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) are conducting well-designed studies of some complementary techniques, including acupuncture and massage.

Some complementary techniques have professional associations with developed standards, but many do not. And some therapies have several associations with different standards. In the United States, some complementary therapies require that practitioners be state licensed or certified to practice.

These complementary therapies require licensed or certified practitioners:

  • acupuncture
  • chiropractic therapy
  • massage (not all states require)
  • Shiatsu (not all states require)

Other therapies that don't require licensing do offer practitioners the option of being certified with a certification board. It's usually best to look for a certified practitioner for these therapies:

  • hypnosis
  • massage (in states that don't require licenses)
  • music therapy
  • Shiatsu
  • yoga

Some therapies can have risks or side effects for certain people.

If you have: Avoid these complementary therapies:
Lymphedema
  • Acupuncture
  • Some types of massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Yoga
Bleeding disorders or take blood thinners
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic therapy
Low white blood cell count/are receiving chemotherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Shiatsu
Irritated skin/are receiving radiation
  • Massage
  • Shiatsu
Weakened bones or osteoporosis
  • Chiropractic therapy
  • Massage
  • Shiatsu
  • Yoga
Mental illness
  • Hypnosis
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
Pregnancy
  • Aromatherapy

The bottom line is that there is no scientific evidence that any complementary therapy can cure cancer. Complementary therapies work best as part of your total treatment plan, combined with conventional medical treatments. Always talk to your doctor about any complementary therapy you would like to try. He or she can integrate it into your treatment plan and possibly recommend a practitioner.

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