What Is Complementary Medicine?

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Complementary medicine is used to describe therapeutic techniques that are not part of conventional medicine (also called "regular," "standard," or "mainstream" medicine). Complementary therapies are used as a "complement" or addition to conventional medicine. Because complementary medicine can be combined or integrated with conventional medical treatment, it is also called "integrative medicine."

Conventional medicine has been proven to be safe and effective by numerous scientific studies. While some studies show that people diagnosed with breast cancer can get benefits from complementary medicine, it's important to know that complementary therapies usually don't undergo the same kinds of rigorous testing as conventional medicine.

Complementary medicine includes techniques such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, massage, support groups, and yoga. Sometimes called holistic medicine, complementary medicine typically addresses how disease affects the whole person: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

Because their effect on the body is best described in nutritional terms, Breastcancer.org discusses supplements and herbs in our Nutrition section.

The difference between complementary medicine and alternative medicine

Alternative medicine is not the same as complementary medicine. Complementary medicine is USED WITH conventional medicine. Alternative medicine is USED INSTEAD OF conventional medicine.

It might help you to add yoga, tai chi, or massage to your regular treatment plan. But you should NEVER replace any part of your regular treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormonal treatment) with something else. Therefore, Breastcancer.org does not recommend alternative medicine.

A number of studies have found that more than 70% of breast cancer survivors have used at least one complementary technique.

In this section, you can learn more about the following aspects of complementary medicine:

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