Do your homework

Many complementary therapies are accepted practices carried out by qualified practitioners, as are some alternative therapies. If you are worried about the legitimacy of a therapy, a good place to start is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which keeps a record of known medical scams. Quackwatch a not-for-profit website from the US, which claims to be an independently run guide to “quackery” and health fraud, may also be worth a look.

Some questions you might consider when deciding what complementary therapies to use or whether to use them at all are:

  • How does the therapy work?
  • Will the therapy directly harm me because of:
    • its side effects?
    • possible interaction with other medication?
    • needing to stop conventional treatment?
    • being told by the therapist to stop or delay all conventional treatment?
  • Is the cost of the therapies or medicines beyond my means?

To help you answer these questions, you need to talk to complementary therapists and doctors. Depending on their area of specialty, they may not know the answers to some of these questions and you may need to work together to find out more information.

General questions to ask any potential complementary therapist

  • What are your qualifications? Are you a member of a professional association?
  • What training or experience do you have in treating people with cancer? Have you treated anyone with my type of cancer?
  • Are you willing to work with my doctors or other health professionals I may need to see?
  • How can the therapies you practise help me? Are there any specific precautions you would take for me?
  • Are there side effects or risks associated with these therapies?
  • Has the therapy been tested in clinical trials?
  • Have the findings been published and are they available for me to read?
  • Can these therapies be combined with conventional treatment?
  • How long should I use this therapy and how will I know if it’s working?
  • Are you able to do home visits if I am not well enough to attend your clinic?
  • How long are your consultations?
  • What do you charge for a consultation?
  • What can I expect from a consultation?
  • Do you dispense your own medicine and supplements?
  • How much can I expect to pay for medicines?
  • Have the products or medicines you dispense been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration?

Q & A

Q: How do I know if a practitioner of complementary or 
    alternative therapy is legitimate?
A: The main thing is to be wary of vague or incredible
    claims. If a “therapy” claims to cure all cancers, uses 
    “secret” ingredients with “amazing” results, or is backed
    by clinical studies that are never specified , then alarm
    bells should ring. Also, watch for practitioners who do
    not display any credible qualifications, who demand a lot 
    of money (especially in advance), or who say you should
    stop your conventional treatment.
(Source: Cancer Council NSW, Understanding Complementary Therapies, 2008)

For more information
Call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20, for a copy of Understanding Complementary Therapies, which covers more than 20 therapies and the issues around choosing a therapy.


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Life, Hope & Reality was developed and written by Afaf Girgis, Claire Johnson, and Sylvie Lambert with funding from the NHMRC and Cancer Council NSW.

Last updated 30 August 2015