Complementary medicine is a set of diagnostic and therapeutic disciplines that are used together with conventional medicine. These can be effective in their own right but are also used to increase the chances of success of conventional medical treatments by making these more tolerable.

A distinction must be made between complementary and alternative therapies. Whereas some alternative therapies like e.g. homeopathy are often hostile towards conventional medicine, complementary medicine works hand-in-hand with science.
The efficacy of many of the complementary therapies, however, have yet to be tested in clinical trials according to established scientific standards. It is therefore not possible to assess how effective these therapies are in treating cancer and we strongly advice our patients not to dispense with tried and tested evidence-based treatments in favor of complementary therapies.

Patients contemplating non-traditional therapies should first discuss these with their consultant to see if these can be successfully integrated into the cancer treatment plan.

Around 40 to 50 percent of all cancer patients in Germany access either complementary or alternative therapies. The most common are mistletoe treatment, diets and the intake of vitamins and minerals.

Many patients who turn to alternative therapies harbor a desire to take a more active role in their treatment and to overcome a feeling of helplessness. The focus is often on the body’s own immune response. As oncologists we take our patients’ wishes for active involvement in the management of their disease very seriously and we do everything possible to integrate individual wishes into the treatment plan. Mutual respect and appreciation are fundamental to a relationship of trust between a patient and a physician and we work closely with our patients to ensure they have full confidence in the treatment management.

Cancer patients are often left vulnerable to pseudo-science, bogus claims and misinformation. An open yet critical discussion with our patients regarding any alternative therapies proposed by them is therefore of upmost importance to us.

A core aspect of complementary oncology is taking a personal and holistic approach to a patient’s cancer care. Studies show that the most common reasons cited for discontinuing conventional cancer treatment are:

  • A lack of social support

  • Poor physician-patient communication

  • Poor communication of information

  • A lack of opportunity to ask questions