This is the transcript of an interview with Barrie Cassileth, PhD about the use of complementary therapies. It is, I think, excellent and especially valuable in making clear distinctions between alternative and complementary therapies and by giving specific examples. I am posting an excerpt and then a link to read more:
Managing Side Effects
Barrie R. Cassileth, MS, PhD
We're going to be talking about integrative medicine
and complementary modalities. I think that it might be
useful to provide a definition. Integrative medicine is the
use and further study of rational, evidence-based complementary
therapies. These therapies control physical and
emotional symptoms, improve quality of life and speed
recovery from illness. They do not treat disease. This is a
very important concept. These are adjunctive therapies
that go along with treatment, or can be used in many
instances for prevention purposes - for primary and secondary
One of the points that I think is essential is that we distinguish
between complementary versus alternative therapies.
It's important to distinguish between these two
because they are vastly different from one another. In
major serious illnesses, such as cancer, complementary therapies
are used along with - as adjuncts to - scientific
mainstream cancer treatment. They're not used by themselves.
They're used ... not instead of but along with mainstream
cancer care. On the other hand, alternative therapies
are often promoted for use instead of mainstream
care for cancer. However, there are no viable alternatives
to mainstream care for serious illnesses [such as] cancer,
[making alternative therapies a risky choice].
We need to focus on complementary therapies because they
are very helpful. They are non-invasive, non-pharmacologic,
inexpensive, safe, evidence-based therapies. Again, they're
used as adjuncts along with mainstream care.
Alternative therapies are vastly different. As I said,
they're promoted for use instead of mainstream treatment.
They're usually biologically invasive. They're costly,
and they're potentially harmful. We want to avoid those,
and we want to focus on something that simply aids the
work of the mainstream oncologists, who are working
with you to deal with your illness.