Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Some facilities utilize complementary and alternative medicine approaches as part of the treatment process, such as acupuncture, yoga, nutrition, animal-assisted therapy, biofeedback, massage, and exercise, in order to help reduce patients’ cravings, manage stress, provide additional benefits to treatment and facilitate the recovery process. CAM is a term that describes medical products and practices which are not part of standard medical care.

Standard medical describes medicine that is practiced by health professionals who have an M.D. or D.O. degree. It is also practiced by other professionals, such as physical therapists, physician assistants, psychologists, and more. It may also be called allopathic medicine, mainstream, Western, or regular medicine, and some standard medical care practitioners may also practice CAM.

Complementary medicine represents treatments used along with standard medical treatments, but are not themselves considered to be standard treatments. An example is using acupuncture to lessen some side effects of cancer treatment.

Alternative medicine represents treatments used instead of standard medical treatments. An example is using a special diet to treat cancer instead of taking drugs prescribed by an oncologist.

Integrative medicine is a total approach that combines standard medicine with CAM approaches that have been shown to be safe and effective. They treat a patient’s mind, body, and “spirit”.

Some CAM therapies have been carefully evaluated and found to be safe and efficient, but others have been found to be ineffective and possibly even harmful. As opposed to CAM therapies, standard treatments have generally been studied intensely for safety and effectiveness through a thorough scientific process that also includes clinical trials with large numbers of patients.

CAM therapies usually include a wide variety of botanical and nutritional products, such as herbal supplements and vitamins. Many of these are thought of as safe because they are present in, or produced by, nature. However, that is not always true, and some of them may affect how well other medicines work in a person’s body.

Patients considering using complementary or alternative therapy should first talk to a doctor or a nurse, as some therapies may interfere with standard treatment and they may even be harmful. A good idea before using CAM is also learning whether the therapy has been proven to do what it claims to do.