Alternative Medicine and Cancer Care 

By Lyn Lumia, RN, Writer

Why do people with cancer use Alternative Medicine? 

People with cancer might think about using Alternative Medicine for a number of reasons: 

  • They want to do everything they can to treat the cancer 
  • They are seeking a treatment approach that might have fewer side effects 
  • They want to be able to gain more control over how their cancer is treated 
  • They prefer alternative theories of health and disease, as well as alternative treatments 
  • They may want to combine conventional medicine with alternative medicine (called integrative medicine) for a stronger effect or to help control side effects of chemo or radiation therapy 

Traditional alternative medicine include mainstream and universally accepted forms of therapy, such as acupuncture, homeopathy, herbalism, massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, supplements, vitamin therapy, and Chinese medicine. Many of these therapies have been practiced for centuries worldwide.  

Healing touch has been used in medicine since the early days of medical care. Healing by touch is based on the theory that illness or injury in one area of the body can affect all parts of the body. Body techniques are often combined with those of the mind, such as meditation. Examples of body therapies include: 

  • Chiropractic and osteopathic medicine 
  • Massage and stretching 
  • Body movement therapies 
  • Tai chi 
  • Yoga 

Supplements, vitamins and herbs have been used over the centuries to treat illness and build up the body and immune system to help fight illness. Many supplements attempt to balance the body’s nutritional well-being. Our standard American diet is lacking in vitamins and nutrition that help prevent illness and disease. Also, many of the treatments for cancer have side effects such as nausea and vomiting and set the body up for nutritional deficiencies. 

Even conventional medicine recognizes the power of the connection between mind and body. Studies have found that people heal better if they have good emotional and mental health. Therapies using the mind Include: 

  • Meditation 
  • Biofeedback 
  • Hypnosis 

Alternative medicine is a term that’s commonly used to describe treatments that aren’t usually offered by health care providers. However, there are some hospitals and medical practices that are offering these treatments more and more. As researchers study these treatments and the evidence for these methods grows, doctors are including them in treatment plans alongside standard treatments. It’s an approach that providers call integrative medicine.  

As many health practitioners are discovering the benefits of alternative medicine, many are now integrating these modalities into the treatment plan. Patients are experiencing relief of symptoms related to chemotherapy and radiation treatments. They are learning to relax with meditation and massage. They may be taking supplements or herbs to help with nausea or increase appetite. They could be taking vitamins to increase the body’s immune system to help fight opportunistic infections. These modalities help benefit the patient and keep them more comfortable while they are going through extensive treatments. 

There are many different types of Alternative Medicine to help patients when they have cancer. Take a good look at which treatments might be right for you. Make sure you and your doctor determine that they are a safe and useful option. Think outside the box! There may be something that can help you on your cancer journey. 

References: 

American Cancer Society (2021, August 21). What is alternative medicine. (Blog Post) amp.cancer.org 

John Hopkins Medicine (2023). Types of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. (Blog Post) hopkinsmedicine.org 

Mayo Clinic (2022, September 13). Integrative Medicine. (Blog Post) mayoclinic.org