Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

You have many choices to make about your cancer treatment. One choice you might be thinking about is Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). CAM is the term for medical products and practices that are not part of standard care. Examples of CAM therapies are acupuncture, chiropractic, and herbal medicines.
People with cancer may use CAM to:

  • Help cope with the side effects of cancer treatments
  • Ease worries of cancer treatment and related stress
  • Feel that they are doing something more to help their own care

CAM treatments do not work for everyone. Some methods, such as acupuncture, might help with nausea, pain and other side effects of cancer treatment. Talk to your doctor to make sure that all aspects of your cancer care work together.

Finding a CAM practitioner

If you think you may have a health condition, first see your GP. Don't visit a CAM practitioner instead of seeing your GP.
It's particularly important to talk to your GP if you have a pre-existing health condition or are pregnant. Some CAMs may interact with medicines that you are taking.

CAMs and regulation

The practice of conventional medicine is regulated by laws that ensure that practitioners are properly qualified, and adhere to certain standards or codes of practice. This is called statutory professional regulation.
Professionals of two complementary and alternative treatments – osteopathy and chiropractic – are regulated in the same way.

There is no statutory professional regulation of any other CAM practitioners.

Finding an osteopath or chiropractor

Osteopathy and chiropractic are regulated in the same way as conventional medicine

  • All osteopaths must be registered with the General Osteopathic Council. You can use the General Osteopathic Council website to find a registered osteopath near you, or check if someone offering osteopathic services is registered
  • All chiropractors must be registered with the General Chiropractic Council. You can use the General Chiropractic Council website to find a registered chiropractor near you, or to check if someone offering chiropractic services is registered

Finding other CAM practitioners

Apart from osteopathy and chiropractic, there is no professional statutory regulation of complementary and alternative treatments in the UK.
This means:

  • It is legal for anyone to practise the treatment, even if they have no or limited formal qualifications or experience
  • These practitioners are not legally required to adhere to any standards of practice or to join an association or register
  • If you decide to use a CAM, it's up to you to find a practitioner who will carry out the treatment in a way that is acceptable to you

Questions to ask before starting a treatment

Once you've found a practitioner, it's a good idea to ask them some questions to help you decide if you want to go ahead with treatment.

We recommend you ask for:

  • The cost of treatment
  • How long the treatment will last
  • Are there any people who should not use this treatment
  • What side effects might the treatment cause
  • Is there anything you should do to prepare for treatment
  • What system does the practitioner have for dealing with complaints about their treatment or service
  • Documentary proof of their qualifications
  • Documentary proof that they are a member of their professional association or voluntary register
  • Documentary proof that they are insured
  • Written reference

Professional associations and accredited registers for CAMs

Some regulated healthcare professionals – such as GPs – also practise unregulated CAMs. In these instances, the CAM practice is not regulated by the organisation that regulates the healthcare professional – such as the General Medical Council – but these organisations will investigate complaints that relate to the professional conduct of their member.
Many CAMs have voluntary registers – some of which are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) – or professional associations, that practitioners can join if they choose. Usually, these associations or registers demand that practitioners hold certain qualifications, and agree to practise to a certain standard.
Organisations with PSA-accredited voluntary registers include the below.
This means that these organisations have met the PSA's demanding standards, which are designed to help people make an informed choice when they're looking for a practitioner.

British Acupuncture Council

The British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) is the leading self-regulatory body for the practice of traditional acupuncture in the UK. We are a member-led organisation, governed by an elected Governing Board and driven by a specialist staff team.

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council

The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) is a regulatory body in the UK which provides a voluntary register of complementary, rather than alternative medicine, therapists. The key purpose of CNHC is to act in the public interest and enable proper public accountability of the complementary therapists that it registers.

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT)

The Federation of Holistic Therapists (FHT) is the largest and leading professional association for therapists in the UK and Ireland. With thousands of members offering a broad range of specialisms - from sports and remedial therapies, to complementary healthcare and holistic beauty treatments – the FHT is the association of choice for professional therapists.