Alternative Anticancer Therapy

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New and alternative approaches to cancer have become critical because of failure of conventional chemotherapy to effect major reduction in the mortality. Cancer, which is the general name for a group of more than 100 diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control, continues to be the leading cause of mortality worldwide.


Why should I be aware of this?

Complementary and alternative cancer treatments are often used by patients whose current treatment is no longer effective. They are also used by many to aid in managing side effects as well.

Alternative cancer treatments may not play any role in curing cancer, but they may help you cope with signs and symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments. It is possible to lessen common signs and symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, and stress by alternative treatments.

In most cases alternative treatment are used as a supplement to treatments received from our doctors. While alternative cancer treatments, such as acupuncture, may reduce nausea or pain, they generally aren't powerful enough to replace your doctor’s medications. The right balance needs to be worked out between traditional medicines and alternative cancer treatments.

All about alternative anticancer therapy

Acupuncture. Studies show acupuncture helps relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy. Acupuncture may also help relieve pain in people with cancer. If performed by a licensed practitioner acupuncture is safe. It is not safe if you're taking blood thinners or if you have low blood counts, so check with your doctor first.

Aromatherapy. Aromatherapy provides a calming sensation with the use of fragrant oils, infused with scents such as lavender. The oils can be applied to your skin during a massage or the oils can be added to bath water, and it may be helpful in relieving nausea, pain and stress.

Biofeedback. Biofeedback therapy makes use of your mind to control various body functions, such as heart rate and blood flow. Specific body function, such as muscle tension or your heart rate, can be monitored with the use of an electronic device. The device uses a beeping sound or a flashing light as cues, for instance to tell you that your heart rate is slowing down or your muscles are becoming more relaxed. By paying attention to the cues you learn to control these functions by paying attention to the cues.

Biofeedback may be helpful in relieving pain in people with cancer. Biofeedback is safe when you work with a certified biofeedback therapist. With practice, you can learn to do biofeedback on your own.

Hypnotherapy. During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist may hypnotize you and then help you focus on goals, such as controlling your pain and reducing your stress. Hypnosis may be helpful for people with cancer who are experiencing anxiety, pain and stress. It may also help prevent anticipatory nausea and vomiting that can occur if chemotherapy has made you sick in the past.

Massage therapy. During a massage, which can be light and gentle, or deep with more pressure, your practitioner kneads your skin, muscles and tendons in an effort to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation. Studies have found massage can be helpful in relieving anxiety, fatigue and stress, as well as pain in people with cancer. Many cancer centers have massage therapists on staff, or your doctor can refer you to a massage therapist who regularly works with people who have cancer.

Meditation. During meditation, you focus your mind on one image, sound or idea, such as a positive thought, which may help people with cancer by relieving anxiety, pain and stress. You can meditate on your own for a few minutes once or twice a day or you can take a class with an instructor.

Music therapy. During music therapy sessions, which involve listening to music, playing instruments, singing songs or writing lyrics, a trained music therapist may lead you through activities designed to meet your specific needs, or you may participate in music therapy in a group setting. Music therapy may help relieve pain and control nausea and vomiting. Music therapy is safe and doesn't require any musical talent to participate. Many medical centers have certified music therapists on staff.

Relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques, which are ways of focusing your attention on calming your mind and relaxing your muscles, might include activities such as visualization exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation techniques may be helpful in relieving anxiety and fatigue. They may also help people with cancer sleep better.

Tai chi. Tai chi incorporates gentle movements and deep-breathing. You can learn Tai chi from an instructor, or on your own following books or videos. Tai chi may help relieve stress and promote good sleep at night. Tai chi doesn’t require much physical strength to do and is generally safe.

Yoga. During a yoga session, you position your body in various poses that require bending, twisting and stretching. There are many types of yoga, each with its own variations. Yoga may provide some stress relief for people with cancer. Yoga has also been shown to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.

What can I do?

When considering CAM, what questions should patients ask their health care providers?

  • What benefits can be expected from this therapy?
  • What are the risks associated with this therapy?
  • Do the known benefits outweigh the risks?
  • What are the potential side effects?
  • Will the therapy interfere with conventional treatment?
  • Is this therapy part of a clinical trial? If so, who is sponsoring the trial?
  • Will the therapy be covered by health insurance?


  • Women having radiation treatment for breast cancer experienced lasting improvements in mental and physical health and quality of life after participating in five sessions of art therapy, Swedish researchers report. [1]

90 degrees

A small number of complimentary therapies, which were originally considered to be purely alternative approaches, are finding a place in cancer treatment. These may not be for cures, but as complementary therapies that may help patients feel better and recover faster. One example is acupuncture

In 1997, a panel of experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Conference found acupuncture to be effective in managing chemotherapy-associated nausea and vomiting and in controlling pain associated with surgery. In contrast, some approaches, such as the use of laetrile, have been studied and found ineffective or potentially harmful. [2]


Cancer patients who are using or considering alternative therapy should discuss this decision with their health care provider, as they would any therapy. Some complementary and alternative therapies may interfere with standard treatment or may be harmful when used along with standard treatment. [2]


  • Evidence-based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine
  • Alternative cancer treatments


  1. Mediline Plus
  2. 2.0 2.1 National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine

See Also