10 Most Common Approaches to Complementary Cancer Therapy | OSF HealthCare
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10 Common Approaches to Complementary Cancer Therapy

Complementary therapies are used along with standard medical care. 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 thatcomplementary 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 therapies:

1. Religious and spiritual approaches

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. 

2. Psychosocial approaches

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.

3. Nutritional approaches

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 focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But they can be dangerous if they result in uncontrolled weight loss. Such diets should only be started with proper medical supervision. A growing number of scientific studies show that certain nutritional supplements show potential for treating and preventing cancer. But other supplements, may promote the development of cancer or even worsen existing cancers. This is a very complex area of research.

4. Physical approaches

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. Some can help improve strength, balance, and pain management.

5. Traditional medicines from around the world

The World Health Organization has officially recognized traditional medicines as the main form of medical treatment for most of the world's people. Many of these traditional medicines 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.

6. Herbal treatments for cancer

Some herbal treatments are new. Others 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. 

7. Unconventional pharmacological treatments

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.

8. Electromagnetic therapies

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.

9. Unconventional use of conventional or conventional-experimental cancer therapies

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.

10. Esoteric therapies

Examples are the use of crystals for healing and the practices of psychic surgeons in the Philippines. Most scientists find these therapies unbelievable—or at least hard to explain in a rational way.

Before trying an alternative treatment

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine stresses that before starting complementary or alternative treatments, it's important to talk with your healthcare providers. This 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 practitioner 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 to 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 are dangerous. and They can also give cancer time to grow and spread.

More information on complementary and alternative ttherapies can be found at:

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


© 2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.