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Why do we Study Complementary Therapies?





The MATCH Study: Mindfulness And Tai chi for Cancer Health. This innovative clinical trial conducted by the University of Calgary/Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is now recruiting cancer survivors! As a participant you get to choose which treatment approach you want, or let us assign you to a group if you are equally interested in both. We will measure program effects on psychological, physical and biological outcomes including quality of life, mood, stress, balance, blood pressure, heart rate, immune function and more! Visit for more details.



by Maryam Qureshi


If you have been considering using complementary therapies, you are part of a rising tide of interest. Depending on the types of symptoms people experience or the type of cancer they were diagnosed with, up to 50% of people will try these therapies after receiving a cancer diagnosis. When most of us think of complementary therapies we think of herbal remedies, maybe yoga or meditation, but in fact they encompass much more. Complementary therapies can be divided into five different categories:


1.     Biologically Based: Vitamins, minerals, herbs, probiotics, amino acids.


2.     Body-Manipulation: Massage, chiropractic, osteopathy.


3.     Mind-Body: Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, guided imagery, hypnosis, art, music, dance or expressive writing therapy.


4.     Energy: Acupuncture, tai chi, qigong, reiki or therapeutic touch.


5.     Alternative Medical Systems: Naturopathy, homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine.


Complementary therapies are all of the above, when used in conjunction with standard medical care. When using these, people have reported relieved stress, renewed hope, symptom management, or even increased energy; however it is important to ask ourselves how we know these are safe and effective. We know that some therapies have a lot of high quality evidence from studies, showing that they achieve what they claim to do, and have minimal risks towards your health (these include meditation, yoga and acupuncture). For other therapies we are still working on our knowledge about possible risks and benefits, and may not be able to give concrete answers on whether they work or how (such as many natural health products). On the other side of the spectrum, we know some herbal therapies, for example, can interact with drugs and cause health complications.


Running high quality, controlled studies is what bridges the gap – between people’s testimonials and reliable evidence – that a therapy helps to treat specific symptoms and is safe. Here at the MATCH Study, these are some of the issues we are tackling. We know from people’s accounts and previous studies that Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (our mindful meditation and yoga program) and Tai chi and Qigong have some mental and physical health benefits. As we compare these two programs to each other in a controlled trial, we will be able to say exactly which symptoms each is better at alleviating, and whether certain people benefit more from one or the other. With participants’ continued involvement in studies like this, we are able to prove to the wider scientific community what the benefits and risks of complementary therapies are, and continue improving access to therapies that have an evidence-base.


As you explore and open doors to different complementary therapies, here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to try a new therapy:


  • Where did I hear about this? (family, friends, media, healthcare practitioner, government healthcare website), and how reliable is this source?
  • What evidence do I have? (testimonials, results from a study, results from a randomized controlled trial) and how strong is this type of evidence?
  • Is there someone knowledgeable I can ask about the risks and benefits? (your pharmacist, nurse, doctor, physiotherapist, psychologist)
  • Are the claims they make reasonable? If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
  • Is there a money-back guarantee? (this is often a sign of a scam)


For more information visit our website:





Maryam Qureshi is a graduate of the University of Calgary, with a Bachelor of Arts honors degree in psychology. She is currently helping manage and evaluate outcomes for several psychosocial studies including the MATCH trial, and pursuing further education.




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