Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Patients

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is any medical and health care systems, practices, or products that are not thought of as standard medical care.

  • Standard treatments are based on scientific evidence from research studies.
  • Complementary medicine refers to treatments that are used with standard medical treatments, like using acupuncture to help with side effects of cancer treatment.
  • Alternative medicine refers to treatments that are used instead of standard medical treatments.
  • Integrative medicine is a total approach to care that combines standard medical treatment with the CAM practices that have been shown to be safe and effective.

Although claims made by CAM treatment providers about the benefits of the treatments can sound promising, we do not know how safe many CAM treatments are or how well they work. If you are using or considering using a complementary or alternative therapy, you should talk with your doctor or nurse. Some CAM therapies may interfere with standard treatment or even be harmful. See our overview on CAM for more information.

NCI has evidence-based PDQ information summaries for the integrative, alternative, and complementary therapies listed below.

  • Posted: April 10, 2015