Understanding the Differences

Complementary, Integrative, and Alternative Cancer Treatment; Understanding the Differences

Complementary cancer treatments refer to modalities used along with conventional medical treatments as a “complement” to the primary form of treatment. One example is using acupuncture to help lessen some side effects of cancer treatment. Another example is to use lymphatic drainage for lymphedema. Although there are many different modalities that comprise “Complementary treatment,” the purpose of complementary cancer treatments is to serve as an adjunct to the primary therapy.

Alternative cancer treatments refer to using different means of treatment other than the standard of care. As opposed to complementary treatments, where both conventional and nonconventional therapy may be used, alternative cancer treatment strictly encompasses the use of non-conventional therapy. The goal with alternative treatment is not just to serve as an adjunct, but rather to be the primary method for treating the cancer. Examples of alternative therapies, include intravenous Vitamin C, hyperthermia and oncothermia (primarily performed outside of the U.S.), and ozone therapy.

Integrative cancer treatment, which is used at our facility, merges numerous forms of treatment, both conventional and non-conventional. The goal in integrative cancer treatment, is to use every modality that may be effective in improving quality and quantity of life. Commonly, integrative therapy involves the use of conventional medicine (often with modification), as well as complementary and alternative techniques. For example, immunotherapy has become perhaps the most exciting area of research and treatment for advanced-stage cancers. As research continues, scientists are finding that while the immunotherapy drugs work best for melanoma, there is only a 20-40% response rate on the other cancers. Interestingly, research scientists have found that if they combine immunotherapy with other techniques, they can significantly improve the response rate. Along these lines, researchers have found that these immunotherapy drugs don’t work well unless the patient has an optimal gut microbiome. What this means is that if you don’t have adequate bacterial flora in your GI tract, you are less likely to have a favorable response. Significant research is now underway to find out which bacteria will yield the best response.

Having said the above, in actuality, many practitioners and lay people use the above terms interchangeably. Many practitioners, both alternative and allopathic, unfortunately turn a blind eye to various treatments that do not fit within their paradigm. Because cancer is constantly mutating, one must utilize multiple modalities simultaneously, to decrease the development of resistance. The enlightened clinician will entertain all possible techniques to improve the health of the patient.