11 alternative cancer treatments to consider (2023)

Alternative cancer treatments: 11 options to consider

Alternative cancer treatments cannot cure your cancer, but they can relieve some signs and symptoms.

By Mayo Clinic staff

Many people with cancer are interested in trying anything that might help them, including complementary and alternative cancer treatments. But many alternative cancer treatments are unproven, and some can even be dangerous.

To help you tell the good from the bad, here are 11 alternative cancer treatments that are generally safe. There is also growing evidence that these treatments may provide some benefit.

How can alternative medicine help people with cancer?

Alternative cancer treatments may not play a direct role in curing your cancer, but they can help you manage signs and symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments, such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, trouble sleeping, and stress.

Alternative medicine is a term often used to describe methods not typically offered by healthcare providers. As researchers study these treatments and the evidence supporting these alternative methods grows, physicians and other providers are incorporating them into treatment plans alongside standard treatments. It's an approach providers sometimes refer to as integrative medicine.

Applying these evidence-based integrative medicine approaches along with standard treatments can help alleviate many symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. But alternative or integrative treatments are generally not powerful enough to fully replace standard treatments. Discuss your options with your provider to find the right balance.

If you experience: Then try it once:
Angst Hypnosis, massage, meditation, music therapy, relaxation techniques
fatigue Movement, massage, relaxation techniques, yoga
nausea and vomiting Acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music therapy
pain Acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, massage, music therapy
sleep disturbance Cognitive behavioral therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga
Emphasize Aromatherapy, exercise, hypnosis, massage, meditation, music therapy, tai chi, yoga

Which treatments are worth trying?

Talk to your provider if you are interested in:

  • Acupuncture.During acupuncture treatment, a doctor inserts tiny needles into your skin at specific points. Studies show that acupuncture can be helpful in relieving nausea caused by chemotherapy. Acupuncture can also help relieve certain types of pain in people with cancer.

    Acupuncture is safe when performed by a licensed practitioner using sterile needles. Ask your provider for names of trusted practitioners. Acupuncture is not safe if you are taking blood thinners or if you have low blood counts, so check with your doctor first.

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    Acupressure is a related technique that involves applying light pressure to specific areas, such as the wrist, to relieve nausea.

  • aromatherapy.Aromatherapy uses scented oils to provide a calming feeling. Oils infused with scents like lavender can be applied to the skin during a massage or added to bath water. Fragrance oils can also be heated to release their fragrances into the air. Aromatherapy can be helpful in relieving nausea, pain, and stress.

    Aromatherapy can be performed by a doctor, or you can use aromatherapy yourself. Aromatherapy is safe, although oils applied to the skin can cause allergic reactions. People with estrogen-sensitive cancer, such as Some types of breast cancer, for example, should avoid applying large amounts of lavender oil and tea tree oil to the skin.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common form of talk therapy. during oneCBTIn one session, a mental health counselor, e.g. a psychotherapist or therapist, will work with you to see challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more effectively.

    For people with cancerCBTcan help with sleep problems. ACBTA counselor or therapist can help you identify thoughts and behaviors that cause or worsen sleep problems and replace them with habits that promote healthy sleep.

    Ask your doctor about a referral to a specialist if you're interestedCBT.

  • A practice.Exercise can help you manage signs and symptoms during and after cancer treatment. Gentle exercise can help relieve fatigue and stress and help you sleep better. Many studies are now showing that an exercise program can help people with cancer live longer and improve their overall quality of life.

    If you have not exercised regularly, consult your provider before starting an exercise program. Start slow and gradually add more movement. Try to work your way up to at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

  • Hypnosis.Hypnosis is a deep state of concentration. During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist can hypnotize you by speaking in a soft voice and helping you relax. The therapist will then help you focus on goals such as: B. controlling your pain and reducing your stress.

    Hypnosis can be helpful for people with cancer who are experiencing anxiety, pain, and stress. It can also help prevent premature nausea and vomiting, which can happen if you have a history of getting sick from chemotherapy. When performed by a certified therapist, hypnosis is safe. But tell your therapist if you have a history of mental illness.

  • Massage.During a massage, your doctor kneads your skin, muscles, and tendons to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation. There are several massage methods. The massage can be light and gentle or deep with more pressure.

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    Studies have shown that massage can be helpful in relieving pain in cancer patients. It can also help reduce anxiety, fatigue and stress.

    Massage can be safe when you work with a knowledgeable massage therapist. Many cancer centers have massage therapists on staff, or your provider can refer you to a massage therapist who works regularly with people living with cancer.

    Do not get a massage if your blood levels are very low. Ask the massage therapist to avoid massage near surgical scars, radiation areas, or tumors. If you have cancer in your bones or other bone diseases like osteoporosis, ask the massage therapist to use gentle pressure rather than a deep massage.

  • Meditation.Meditation is a state of deep concentration when you fix your mind on an image, sound, or idea, such as a B. a positive thought. When you meditate, you can also do breathing or relaxation exercises. Meditation can help people with cancer by relieving anxiety and stress and improving mood.

    Meditation is generally safe. You can meditate alone for a few minutes once or twice a day, or you can take a class with a teacher. There are also many online courses and apps for guided meditations.

  • music therapyDuring music therapy sessions, you can listen to music, play instruments, sing songs, or write lyrics. A trained music therapist can guide you through activities tailored to your specific needs, or you can participate in group music therapy. Music therapy can help relieve pain, control nausea and vomiting, and deal with anxiety and stress.

    Music therapy is safe and requires no musical talent to participate. Many medical centers have certified music therapists on staff.

  • relaxation techniques.Relaxation techniques are ways to focus your attention, quiet your mind, and relax your muscles. Relaxation techniques can include activities such as visualization exercises or progressive muscle relaxation.

    Relaxation techniques can be helpful to reduce anxiety and fatigue. They can also help people with cancer sleep better.

    Relaxation techniques are safe. A therapist will usually guide you through these exercises, and you may be able to do them yourself or with the help of guided relaxation recordings.

  • Tai Chi.Tai Chi is a form of exercise that involves gentle movements and deep breathing. Tai chi can be guided by an instructor, or you can learn tai chi yourself from books or videos. Practicing Tai Chi can help reduce stress.

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    Tai Chi is generally safe. The slow movements of Tai Chi do not require great physical strength and the exercises can be easily adapted to one's ability. Still, talk to your provider before you start tai chi. Don't do tai chi moves that cause pain.

  • Yoga.Yoga combines stretching exercises with deep breathing. During a yoga session, you position your body in various poses that involve bending, twisting, and stretching. There are many types of yoga, each with their own variations.

    Yoga can reduce stress in cancer patients. Yoga has also been shown to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.

    Before beginning a yoga class, ask your provider to recommend a teacher who regularly works with people with health conditions like cancer. Avoid yoga postures that cause pain. A good instructor can give you alternative poses that are safe for you.

You may find that some treatments work well together. For example, deep breathing during a massage can further reduce stress.

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  2. Deng GE, et al. Complementary therapies and integrative medicine in lung cancer: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines (3rd edition). Breast. 2013; doi:10.1378/chest.12-2364.
  3. Aromatherapy with Essential Oils (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/hp/aromatherapy-pdq. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  4. Massage therapy: what you need to know. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine. https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/massage-therapy-what-you-need-to-know. Retrieved November 7, 2021.
  5. Cancer pain in adults. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/guidelines/guidelines-detail?category=3&id=1413. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  6. antiemesis. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/guidelines/guidelines-detail?category=3&id=1415. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  7. Cancer-related fatigue. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/guidelines/guidelines-detail?category=3&id=1424. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
  8. Ask MayoExpert. Acupuncture. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  9. Ask MayoExpert. aromatherapy. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  10. Ask MayoExpert. hypnotherapy. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  11. Ask MayoExpert. message therapy. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  12. Ask MayoExpert. Meditation. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  13. Ask MayoExpert. music therapy Mayo Clinic; 2021
  14. Ask MayoExpert. tai chi Mayo Clinic; 2021
  15. Ask MayoExpert. Yoga. Mayo Clinic; 2021
  16. Greenlee H., et al. Clinical practice guidelines for the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017; doi:10.3322/caac.21397.
  17. Deng G. Integrative medical therapies for pain management in cancer patients. The Cancer Journal. 2019; doi:10.1097/PPO.0000000000000399.
  18. Ma Y, et al. Efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy for breast cancer insomnia: A meta-analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. 2021; doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2020.101376.
  19. Ask MayoExpert. Chronic insomnia (adults). Mayo Clinic; 2020

For more information, see

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  1. Infographic: 3D printing for cancer treatment
  2. Adjuvant therapy in cancer
  3. Atypical Cells: Are They Cancer?
  4. Biopsieverfahren
  5. Frequently asked questions about breast cancer treatment
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  9. Myths about the causes of cancer
  10. Infographic: Cancer clinical trials offer many benefits
  11. Cancer diagnosis: 11 tips to cope
  12. Cancer-related fatigue
  13. Cancer pain: relief is possible
  14. Cancer risk: what the numbers mean
  15. cancer surgery
  16. Cancer Survival Rate
  17. Cancer Survivors: Take Care of Your Post-Treatment Body
  18. Cancer survivors: late effects of cancer treatment
  19. Cancer Survivors: Managing Your Emotions After Cancer Treatment
  20. cancer treatment
  21. Cancer treatment decisions: 5 steps to help you decide
  22. Myths of Cancer Treatment
  23. cancer vaccine research
  24. Side Effects of Chemotherapy: A Cause of Heart Disease?
  25. COVID-19: Who is at higher risk for severe symptoms?
  26. Curcumin: Can It Slow Cancer Growth?
  27. Cancer-related diarrhea
  28. Eating during cancer treatment: tips to make food tastier
  29. Heart Cancer: Is There Such a Thing?
  30. High Dose Vitamin C: Can It Kill Cancer Cells?
  31. Low blood levels
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  33. Monoclonal Antibody Drugs
  34. Mort crim and cancer
  35. Mouth ulcers from cancer treatment: how to deal with them
  36. No appetite? How to eat during cancer treatment
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  40. Thalidomide: research advances in cancer and other diseases
  41. Tumor vs Cyst: What's the Difference?
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  44. When Cancer Returns: How to Cope with Cancer Recurrence
(Video) The Burzynski Clinic Leading Integrative Cancer Treatment Center 5 Minute Version



What are 2 strategies that can help people cope with the challenges of a cancer diagnosis and treatment? ›

Talk to other people with cancer

They can tell you what to expect during treatment. Talk to a friend or family member who has had cancer. Or connect with other cancer survivors through support groups. Ask your health care provider about support groups in your area.

What is considered to be the best treatment for cancer? ›

Any cancer treatment can be used as a primary treatment, but the most common primary cancer treatment for the most common types of cancer is surgery. If your cancer is particularly sensitive to radiation therapy or chemotherapy, you may receive one of those therapies as your primary treatment.

What starves cancer cells? ›

Hence, glucose starvation sensitizes cancer cells against various stresses and may induce apoptosis in cancer cells. Studies reveal that 72 hours of starvation reduces glucose levels by 41% and IGF-1 levels by 70%, while IGFBP1 increases 11.4-fold.

How to treat cancer without chemo? ›

5 Cancer Treatments That Aren't Chemotherapy
  1. Treatment 1: Surgery. ...
  2. Treatment 2: Immunotherapy. ...
  3. Treatment 3: Targeted therapies. ...
  4. Treatment 4: Active surveillance. ...
  5. Treatment 5: Supportive care.

What are three actions you could take to reduce your risk for cancer? ›

Consider these lifestyle tips to help prevent cancer.
  • Don't use tobacco. ...
  • Eat a healthy diet. ...
  • Maintain a healthy weight and be physically active. ...
  • Protect yourself from the sun. ...
  • Get vaccinated. ...
  • Avoid risky behaviors. ...
  • Get regular medical care.

What are two things you can avoid to help prevent getting cancer? ›

You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices like keeping a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and protecting your skin.

What should a doctor consider before deciding on a treatment option? ›

When making any treatment decision, you should consider the risks, benefits, and supporting evidence for the treatment. In addition, you should consider if the treatment is compatible with your personal values and preferences and if it is accessible at a reasonable cost.

What triggers cancer cells to grow? ›

Most cancer-causing DNA changes occur in sections of DNA called genes. These changes are also called genetic changes. A DNA change can cause genes involved in normal cell growth to become oncogenes. Unlike normal genes, oncogenes cannot be turned off, so they cause uncontrolled cell growth.

What stops cancer cells from spreading? ›

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) block chemical messengers (enzymes) called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases help to send growth signals in cells, so blocking them stops the cell growing and dividing. Cancer growth blockers can block one type of tyrosine kinase or more than one type.

What allows cancer cells to live forever? ›

In most cases, cancer cells become immortal by invoking a genetic mutation that can trigger the production of an enzyme, known as telomerase, which prevents telomeres from shortening. Telomeres are important because they prevent DNA-containing chromosomes from damage or fusing with nearby chromosomes.

Which cancer treatment is most successful? ›

Surgery is most effective at completely removing cancer that is at an early stage, is localized and hasn't spread to other parts of the body.

What are the top 3 treatments for cancer? ›

The most common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Other options include targeted therapy, immunotherapy, laser, hormonal therapy, and others.

What cancers Cannot be treated? ›

Even when diagnosed early and attacked with the latest treatments, cancer still has the power to kill.
Jump to:
  • Pancreatic cancer.
  • Mesothelioma.
  • Gallbladder cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer.
  • Liver and intrahepatic bile duct cancer.
  • Lung and bronchial cancer.
  • Pleural cancer.
  • Acute monocytic leukemia.
Sep 21, 2022

What are the 4 prevention methods for cancer? ›

You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by making healthy choices like keeping a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, and protecting your skin.

What other treatment is there besides chemotherapy? ›

Alternative therapies to chemotherapy include photodynamic therapy, laser therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy. Individuals should discuss possible treatments with medical professionals to establish which treatment may be most beneficial for them.


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