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Complementary and alternative medicines and therapies

Complementary and alternative medicines and therapies

Updated: 11 Jul 2023
A woman is sitting on a couch talking on her mobile phone while she is looking at a bottle of medication in her hand

Topics in this article
Treatment and Therapies
Health, nutrition and exercise
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Have you considered using complementary therapies and medicines?

Many people are interested in using complementary therapies and medicines as part of their breast cancer journey. There are many different types of complementary therapies and medicines, and the information that is available can sometimes be confusing. We hope the following information will help you to understand what is available. 

Overview of types

Complementary therapies 

Complementary therapies are used in addition to conventional medical treatments like chemotherapy and hormone-blocking therapies.

Examples of complementary therapies include:

  • massage
  • yoga
  • acupuncture
  • reflexology.

For more information see Complementary therapies.

Complementary medicines

Complementary medicines are products that are used in addition to conventional medical treatments like chemotherapy and hormone-blocking therapies.

Complementary medicines include vitamin and mineral supplements, such as:

  • fish oil capsules
  • vitamin D tablets
  • herbal medicines.

For more information see Complementary medicines page.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies are products or therapies that are used instead of conventional medical treatments like chemotherapy and hormone-blocking therapies.

Some examples of alternative therapies are:

  • ozone therapy
  • special diets
  • coffee enemas
  • large doses of vitamins
  • herbal treatments.

It’s important to understand that alternative therapies have not been scientifically tested or proven. There is no evidence that they are effective in treating breast cancer, although they are often marketed as being a “cure” for cancer. 

For more information see Alternative therapies.


Should I use complementary or alternative therapies?

It is best to carefully consider the use of any complementary medicines and seek advice from your medical team about any medicine or supplements you are using or considering. 

Some complementary therapies can cause unwanted side effects. They can also interfere with prescription medicines – including breast cancer medicines – and make your breast cancer treatment less effective. For example, vitamin C supplements can interfere with some chemotherapy treatments, and St John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen and some chemotherapies.

Sometimes your doctor may suggest you use a complementary medicine. For example, vitamin D may be recommended if you are taking an aromatase inhibitor (Arimidex, Femara, Aromasin).

Before starting any complementary medicine, talk to a member of your medical team to discuss any possible effects it may have on your breast cancer treatment and health. 


Things you can do now

  • Watch the video of BCNA's Integrative Health webcast.
  • Visit My Journey, BCNA’s online tool for information tailored to your diagnosis. 
  • Join our Online Network if you think that talking to others online and sharing experiences will help.    
  • Contact BCNA’s Helpline on 1800 500 258 between 9.00 am to 5.00 pm AEST Monday to Friday, for information about the services and support that may be available for you and your family.
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