Difference Between Complementary, Alternative & Integrative Therapy?

Last Modified: June 26, 2011

OncoLink Cancer FAQ

I have heard people talk about complementary, alternative, and now integrative therapy for cancer – are these terms interchangeable?

OncoLink Cancer FAQ

Tony Meadows PhD MT-BC FAMI LPC is Director of Music Therapy at Immaculata University and Music Therapist at the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, responds:

Complementary and integrative are generally seen as similar terms, whereas alternative is somewhat different. Complementary or integrative therapies are generally seen as "supporting" medical treatment. For example, a music therapist may provide a music-imagery experience during radiation to help reduce anxiety. In this way of thinking, the patient's experience of cancer is seen as traversing body-mind-spirit, so that for some patient's addressing their emotional experience is very important, whereas for other their primary concerns are nutritional.

Alternative therapies are generally understood as being those approaches that replace medical care such as chemotherapy and radiation. These approaches generally don't support the use of conventional therapies, instead focusing on specific diets, supplements and related nutritional interventions (e.g. suppositories), to directly treat the cancer.

Learn more on OncoLink's Complementary Therapy Section!

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. See full archive of IntegrativeTherapies in Cancer Care.


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