Complementary therapies are used along with standard healthcare. Many people with cancer wonder about these therapies. They want to do anything they can to feel well and fight cancer. But there is little scientific evidence proving that complementary cancer therapies are safe and that they work. So how do you best choose among them? Understanding the ideas behind each type of therapy can help you answer this question. Below is a brief review of 10 common approaches to complementary cancer therapy:
Examples are prayer, laying on of hands, or beliefs about the religious and spiritual realm. Some studies suggest that religious practices help people feel better and have a better quality of life.
These may address both mental and emotional aspects of cancer. Psychological approaches include support groups, individual psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, imagery, art therapy, and types of self-analysis and self-expression, such as structured journal writing. Social factors include social support networks and taking part in a wide range of social and community activities . Many of these have been shown to help manage mood, sleep, depression, and stress.
Examples include special diets and nutritional supplements. These therapies range from following a basic, healthy vegetable-based diet to adopting highly restrictive diets and supplement programs. Restrictive diets may hold promise in cancer prevention and treatment. These often involve limiting fat and calories and eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But they can be dangerous if they lead to uncontrolled weight loss. Such diets should be started only with proper medical supervision. More scientific studies are showing that certain nutritional supplements may help treat and prevent cancer. But other supplements may promote the development of cancer or even worsen existing cancers. This is a very complex area of research.
These are designed to relax, align, energize, and strengthen the body. They include exercise, progressive deep relaxation, massage, chiropractic or osteopathic therapies, mind-body disciplines (such as yoga, qi gong, or tai chi), acupuncture, and hands-on energy therapies such as Reiki. Some of these approaches may help improve strength, balance, and pain management.
. Traditional medicines may offer treatments for cancer that have been used for thousands of years. Some of the most ancient types include Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine from India, Traditional Tibetan Medicine, and medicinal treatments from indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Some herbal treatments are new. Other come from traditional medicines. There's a large and growing research interest in herbal therapies. Some herbs hold clear promise for cancer treatment and others may be harmful. Inconsistency in the purity of herbal treatments sold in the U.S. is a major problem, because the market is largely unregulated. Some herbal remedies don’t contain what their label says. Others are laced with powerful conventional medicines or toxic substances.
These treatments represent a large and diverse field of complementary, and in many cases, alternative cancer therapies. Unconventional pharmacological cancer therapies are a field that remains poorly regulated in the U.S and elsewhere. Unconventional therapies lack sound data on their effectiveness, safety, and purity. Some of these therapies use secret formulas that cure cancer. Providers claim the secrecy is needed to prevent mainstream medicine from suppressing or taking over their treatments. Some unconventional pharmacological treatments may hold promise. But rigorous scientific testing must first be done. It's dangerous to use these therapies instead of conventional medicine to treat cancer.
Therapies range from the simple use of magnets, as an addition to Traditional Chinese Medicine, to sophisticated electromagnetic methods. These are not widely used by people with cancer in the U.S. But some of the work deserves careful scientific evaluation.
These begin with variations in medical practice. Conventional or standard treatments are used in ways that are so different from their approved use that they are considered unconventional. Examples of unconventional-experimental treatments include chronotherapies. This is when surgery or chemotherapy is timed to occur at the same time as cyclical changes (the circadian timing system) in the bodies of people with cancer. It's thought that this timing may lead to fewer side effects and better treatment responses. More research is needed.
According to the National Association of Esoteric Healing, this approach is the science of healing through the energy field using spiritual healing principles. It is thought to benefit not only physically but spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health stresses that you should talk with your healthcare providers before starting complementary or alternative treatments. Doing so will help keep your cancer care coordinated and safe. Keep in mind that some complementary treatments, such as nutritional therapies and herbs, can interfere with standard cancer treatments. And to use some of these approaches safely, a trained and experienced provider is needed. Giving your healthcare providers a truthful picture of what complementary therapies you are using, or thinking of using, will help ensure that your cancer treatments will be safe.
It's also important to talk with a healthcare provider before deciding to use an alternative therapy. Learn about conventional treatments and the outcomes you might expect before using an alternative therapy instead. Unproven products and practices that delay conventional treatment may be dangerous and give cancer time to grow and spread.
More information on complementary and alternative therapies can be found at:
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute