Complementary and alternative medicine for children with cancer

Complementary and alternative medicine for children with cancer

If your child has cancer, please talk to your child's healthcare team before using any complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) for your child. Some CAM treatments, even vitamins, can interfere with standard medical treatment or can be unsafe for your child with cancer. 

Key points to remember

  • complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments and therapies are different from standard or conventional medical treatment
  • it is very important to talk to your child's healthcare team about any plans for using CAM therapies for your child
  • your child's healthcare team need to know about all your child's therapies so that your child gets the safest and most effective care possible

What is complementary or alternative medicine?

This page is part of a whole section about childhood cancer.

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) are treatments and therapies that are different from conventional or standard medical treatment.

Some people use complementary medicine together with standard medical treatment. They use alternative medicine instead of standard medical treatment.

What are the different types of complementary and alternative medicine therapies?

There are many different types of CAM therapies.

Other names for CAM therapies are 'natural remedies', 'traditional' or 'alternative' medicines.

These include:

  • high dose vitamins
  • minerals
  • herbal therapies
  • tonics
  • aromatherapy
  • homeopathic medicines

Talk to your child's healthcare team before starting any CAM therapy or treatment.

Complementary or alternative medicine also includes:

  • treatments that are well established in other countries, such as traditional Chinese medicine in China and Ayurvedic medicine in India
  • treatments, such as magnet therapy, crystals
  • mind-body medicine - therapies and techniques that use the mind to help heal the body - hypnosis, medication, guided imagery and biofeedback
  • lifestyle changes such as nutrition, social support, relaxation, stretching and exercise, to balance the body and calm the mind
  • older therapies such as massage, osteopathy, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbal medicine and homeopathy

What is the difference between complementary or alternative and standard treatments?

New Zealand's 2 specialist treatment centres for childhood cancer use standard medical treatment (conventional treatment). There is scientific evidence that supports standard medical treatment and shows that the treatment provides the best chance for cure.

There is some scientific evidence for some CAM treatments. But, there are important questions about most CAM therapies that still need answers:

  1. Are they safe?
  2. How do they work?
  3. Will they work for this disease?

Is complementary and alternative medicine safe for my child with cancer?

Read more about childhood cancer treatments.

Many families think about using CAM for their child with cancer. If you are thinking about this, please talk to your child's healthcare team first.

The following are some of the problems with CAM treatments for children with cancer.

Some CAM therapies can interfere with treatment

Some CAM therapies, treatments and products may be safe for children with cancer, while others may interfere with treatment. For example, some natural products and vitamins may interfere with how well chemotherapy works. Some products may have side effects that can interfere with other parts of cancer treatment.

Some CAM products increase the risk of infection

Herbal and natural products may contain bacteria or fungi, increasing your child's risk for infection, particularly at a time when they are very vulnerable.

Some CAM therapies can be unsafe for some children

Some CAM therapies and products may be unsafe for children who have low blood counts.

Tell your child's healthcare team about all medicines and treatments

Remember, it is very important to discuss any plans for using any kind of CAM therapies or products with your child's healthcare team. CAM products include any vitamins, remedies or natural products you are thinking of giving to your child.

Your child's healthcare team need to know about all your child's therapies. This is to make sure your child gets the safest and most effective care possible.

The doctors and nurses in your child's healthcare team will listen to what you have to say and be more than happy to talk with you about any risks and benefits of all your child's treatments. Sometimes, there is not any information available to give you about the safety of combining CAM products with standard therapy.

Please tell your child's doctors and nurses about all of your child's medicines, including:

  • medicines from doctors at the hospital
  • medicines from another doctor (maybe your family doctor)
  • medicines you bought at the chemist or the supermarket
  • medicines you bought at a health food shop
  • complementary medicines ('natural' remedies)

Can some complementary and alternative medicine be helpful for my child?

Certain types of CAM therapy may help with your child's cancer treatment symptoms.

Some CAM therapies can help reduce stress and help your child feel more relaxed and comfortable.

Examples of CAM therapies that can sometimes help children having cancer treatment include:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • massage
  • aromatherapy
  • music therapy

Talk with your child's healthcare team if you would like to use any of these methods during your child's treatment.

All the pages in the childhood cancer section of this website have been written by health professionals who work in the field of paediatric oncology. They have been reviewed by the members of the National Child Cancer Network (NZ). Medical information is authorised by the clinical leader of the National Child Cancer Network.

This page last reviewed 15 March 2018.
Email us your feedback

On this page