Choosing a complementary therapy and practitioner

It’s your choice to use – or not to use – a complementary therapy. Being open and honest, researching the therapy and practitioner, and asking lots of questions will help you make a safe and informed decision.

Talk to your healthcare team

If you're thinking about trying a complementary therapy, first talk to your doctor or someone on your healthcare team about the therapy and why you want to try it.

You may need to tell your doctor or healthcare professional more about what a therapy involves or share information you've found about the therapy you want to try. Being open and honest with your healthcare team will help make sure that the therapy you're thinking of using is safe and will not get in the way of your standard cancer treatment.

It's especially important to talk to your healthcare team about trying any complementary therapy that involves taking dietary supplements, vitamins or herbal products or radically changing your diet. Some products may interfere with standard cancer treatments or there may be a lot of uncertainty over how these products might affect your treatment.

Sometimes your healthcare team will tell you about complementary therapies that could improve your well-being or help with side effects from cancer treatment. These therapies may be offered through your treatment centre.

Think about your goals for using a complementary therapy

People use complementary therapies for different reasons. Perhaps you want help managing a specific side effect or maybe you hope to reduce stress or improve your overall well-being. Some people feel that using a complementary therapy helps them gain a sense of control and to feel more involved with their healthcare. Ask yourself:

  • What do I hope to gain from a complementary therapy?

  • Is this goal realistic?

  • How will I know that the complementary therapy is helping me with my goal?

  • How much time, money and effort am I willing to spend on this goal?

  • What will I do if my goals change over time?

Find credible information about the complementary therapy

Good sources of information about the benefits and risks of complementary therapies are evidence-based websites, your hospital or cancer treatment centre or an integrative cancer care centre.

Be wary of any information that claims that a therapy cures cancer or has no side effects.

Evaluating information about therapies may mean looking at scientific studies. While there has been research into how some complementary therapies could help people with cancer, we still need more information from well-designed studies to understand how well they work. Some things to consider include:

  • Have there been any randomized clinical trials that look into how well a therapy works or if a therapy does what it is supposed to do?

  • Do the studies look at a large number of people over a long period of time?

  • Are there several different studies that have the same or similar results?

  • Does the research say anything about possible side effects?

You can ask your healthcare team for help evaluating the information you find.

Ask questions about the complementary therapy

Part of the process of researching and evaluating a complementary therapy will be asking questions such as:

  • How does the complementary therapy work?
  • Are there any published research studies that say the therapy works? How reliable is that proof?
  • Is there any possibility that the complementary therapy will interfere with the use or timing of standard cancer treatments recommended by my healthcare team?

  • What side effects are possible?

  • How long will I need the complementary therapy?

  • What are the costs of taking the therapy or visiting a practitioner?

Some complementary therapies can be very expensive. Complementary therapies aren't usually covered by provincial or territorial health plans. Private health insurance plans may cover certain therapies. Also think about the time and energy that you would spend going to appointments, making lifestyle changes or managing the therapy.

Find a qualified complementary therapy practitioner

Complementary therapy practitioners have different training and backgrounds. Many practitioners, but not all, have formal training or have gone through apprenticeship programs. It may take some time and effort to find qualified practitioners that you feel comfortable with and can trust.

Finding a practitioner who has experience in caring for people with cancer is also important. Some therapies can be unsafe if they're given at the wrong time or in the wrong way. Be open and honest with your practitioner about your cancer diagnosis and tell them about your treatment plan. Check whether the practitioner is willing to talk to and work with your healthcare team.

Some tips for finding a complementary therapy practitioner include:

  • Check with your healthcare team or visit the resource centre or library at your cancer centre.
  • Ask around. Many people living with cancer have tried complementary therapies, and many will be happy to share their experiences with you.

  • Contact professional associations. Sometimes complementary therapies have a professional association where you may be able to find a list of practitioners in your area.

  • Find out as much as you can about a practitioner, such as their education, training, licensing, certifications and if they have experience treating people with cancer.

Expert review and references

  • Lynda G Balneaves, RN, PhD
  • Lim Howard, MD, PhD, FRCPC
  • Dugald Seely, ND, MSc, FABNO
  • Cancer Research UK. Information on the web for complementary and alternative therapy. 2022:
  • Better Health Channel. Complementary therapies - choosing a practitioner. 2014:
  • Better Health Channel. Complementary medicines - tell yourhealthcare professionals. 2021:
  • American Cancer Society. Where Can I Find Trustworthy Info on Complementary and Integrative Methods?. 2021:
  • American Cancer Society. How Do I Talk to My Doctor About Complementary and Integrative Methods?. 2021:
  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. About Herbs, Botanicals and Other Products. New York, NY: 2022:
  • Complementary Medicine Education and Outcomes (CAMEO) Research Program . CAM and Cancer in Canada . Tuesday, September 20, 2022.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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