Cancer and Alternative Therapies: What You Need to Know

Monday February 4 is World Cancer Day. An oncologist shares tips on the best way to approach alternative therapies if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer.

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CLEVELAND – Cancer therapies have evolved in recent years, and the number of options can seem overwhelming to a person who’s been newly diagnosed.

According to Dale Shepard, M.D., Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic, when faced with a cancer diagnosis, the first thing to do is have an honest and open conversation with an oncologist.

“I think the very first thing you need to address, and really have honest discussions about is –what is the goal of therapy? Are we trying to cure your cancer? Are we trying to improve symptoms related to your cancer? Are we trying to make you live longer? What are our goals? It really sets the tone for what the therapies will look like moving forward,” he said.

Dr. Shepard said many people are curious to learn more about alternative therapies for cancer treatment.

In fact, a recent survey indicates that nearly four in ten Americans believe that cancers can be cured using alternative therapies alone.

Dr. Shepard said alternative therapies are generally used in addition to traditional therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation – not in place of them.

He said there currently is no research that shows any alternative therapies can work on their own to treat or cure cancer, but some can be helpful for managing symptoms.

Dr. Shepard said it’s important for people to discuss alternative therapies with their doctor before trying them, because using them could cause an interaction with some cancer medications, making treatments less effective. Some alternative therapies may also increase toxicity.

He said it’s essential for patients to have good, open communication with their care team from the very beginning – from the oncologist, to the patient, to the patient’s care givers.

And while the goal is always to give patients the most effective therapy available, Dr. Shepard said it’s also important for the patient to be comfortable with the treatment plan, which is why he often recommends a second opinion.

“I encourage patients to get second opinions,” said Dr. Shepard. “Patients and families have to be comfortable with the plan. If that means going somewhere, weighing options, and going with the one they’re the most comfortable with, that’s absolutely important.”

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