Alternative therapies generally refer to those therapies that are not considered part of mainstream Western medicine.  They are also referred to as complementary, holistic, or unconventional therapies.  While Western medicine treats the disease, alternative therapies treat the person who has the illness.  In the treatment of cancer, alternative therapies focus on strengthening the self-healing abilities of the individual.  In addition, alternative therapies can be very helpful in relieving stress and reducing pain.

Many alternative therapies are beginning to gain recognition by mainstream physicians as helpful in the fight against cancer.  Most alternative therapies can be used in conjunction with conventional treatments; thus the term complementary therapies.  In fact, many studies have shown that alternative therapies can enhance the effectiveness of conventional Western treatments as well as lessen their harmful side effects.  Alternative therapies can also be used alone if you choose not to undergo Western medical treatments.

There is a tremendous amount of information on alternative therapies for cancer.  Be cautious of anyone or anything that proclaims a miraculous cure.  It is important to seek advice from reputable health professionals who are well educated in their field.  There are also numerous books available to read concerning alternative therapies.  Be an informed consumer and educate yourself.  It is also important to use your own intuition in choosing which alternative therapies will work best for you.

What follows is a summary of some of the more common types of alternative therapies for cancer treatment. This is by no means a complete list. This is meant to be a guideline for choosing those therapies that you wish to investigate further. Click on a link from the list below to read more on a particular therapy or scroll through to read about all of the alternative and complementary therapies.

Recently, much research has shown that diet and supplements can be helpful in the treatment of cancer as well as prevention.  Various foods and supplements (including vitamins, minerals, herbs, and teas) can enhance the effectiveness of a person's immune system.  They can also help cleanse your body by removing toxic by-products of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery.

The information available on diet and supplements can sometimes be overwhelming and advice can vary widely. Many physicians have little training in nutrition.  It is important to educate yourself by reading books and speaking with various health professionals.  It is best to find a qualified nutritionist who works specifically with cancer patients. In general, the healthiest diets are those that emphasize fresh vegetables and whole grains while minimizing meat, dairy, sugar, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
TCM treats illness as an imbalance in the energy flows in your body, mind, and spirit.  Therefore, a rebalancing of these aspects can lead to healing.  People, rather than the disease, are treated.  TCM focuses on the use of acupuncture and Chinese herbs to rebalance the energy flows and boost your immune system in order to increase your body's self-healing abilities. 

Routine exercise is very important for your health.  Walking is an excellent exercise for the mind, body, and soul.  Breathing exercises are also important. Meditative exercises such as Yoga, T’ai Chi or Chi Gong can also be very valuable.

Mind-Body Therapies: Relaxation, Meditation, and Visual Imagery
The mind can be a powerful tool in the recovery from illness.  It is possible to learn ways to use your mind to help heal your body.  In this endeavor, it is critical to find a therapist who is experienced in working with cancer patients.

Many researchers have shown that various relaxation techniques can help increase the immune system's ability to fight cancer.  In addition, relaxation techniques can help reduce stress from the cancer diagnosis and pain from the cancer or the treatments.

Meditation enables you to get in touch with your inner wisdom, to learn what is happening in your body, mind, and soul, and to learn what you need to do to heal yourself.  Meditation can be done by anyone.  There are several different ways of doing meditation and you can learn which one works best for you. 

Visual imagery has been shown by some researchers to be a valuable tool in the fight against cancer.  Being able to visualize your disease, your treatment, and your body's own defense system can be critically important in recovering from cancer.  Visual imagery can also be very useful for pain relief.

It has been shown that expression of emotions, feelings, and thoughts is critical to living with cancer as well as recovering from cancer.  This can be accomplished by working individually with a qualified therapist and/or by joining a support group.

Emotional and psychological issues surrounding a cancer diagnosis are very different from other difficult life situations.  Therefore, it is very important, when seeking a psychotherapist, to find one who is experienced in working with cancer patients.

Support groups can be very beneficial by providing a place where you can share your thoughts and feelings openly with others who are also facing the tremendous challenges of living with cancer.  Be cautious, however, as support groups can be good or bad depending on the people who go to them and the focus of the group.  In general, if you feel better when you leave the group, then go back.  If you find yourself more depressed after going to the group, then look for a different group.

Energy Healing
Eastern medical philosophies believe that it is the flow of vital energy (known as chi in Chinese) through your body that keeps you healthy.  If this flow is blocked, physical and mental illness can occur.  By unblocking this energy and rebalancing the body's energy, true healing of the mind, body, and spirit can occur.  Energy healing can be done through acupuncture (see TCM above), acupressure, massage therapy, therapeutic touch, Reiki, Shiatsu and more.

Prayer and Spiritual Healing
For people who believe strongly in their own religion, prayer can be very healing.  Spiritual healing can also occur through recognition of your inner wisdom and a deep understanding of your soul.  Creating a personal healing altar or performing various healing rituals can also be comforting and empowering.

Homeopathic remedies are dilutions of natural substances from plants, minerals, and animals. Homeopathy is based on the idea that the same substances that in large doses produce symptoms of an illness can cure the illness when used in very minute doses.  By ingesting minute quantities, homeopathic remedies stimulate the body’s natural healing responses.  It is important to consult a professional who has training in the use of homeopathic remedies.

Ayurvedic Medicine
Ayurvedic medicine has been practiced in India for over 5000 years.  Ayurvedic doctors first identify the patient's metabolic blood type. Then a specific treatment plan is designed to restore the balance in the individual's body, mind, and spirit. Treatments may include dietary changes, exercise, yoga, meditation, herbal tonics, and more.

Journal Writing, Drawing, and other Creative Outlets
Writing your thoughts and feelings in a journal or expressing them through drawing or painting can be extremely helpful in dealing with cancer.  Studies have shown that expressing yourself through these creative outlets can decrease stress and possibly even enhance your immune system. In addition, keeping a journal, either through words or drawings, can often help you make treatment decision. 

Unconventional Medical Treatments
The alternative therapies listed above can be done on your own or with the help of local health care practitioners.  There are also many unconventional medical treatments for cancer that must be carried out under the supervision of a physician.  These include chelation therapy, high dose vitamin C therapy, hyperthermia, Dr. Burzynskis’ Antineoplaston Therapy, Dr. Burton s Immuno-Augmentative Therapy, Revici Therapy, Dr. Gold’s hydrazine sulfate, Cell Specific Cancer Therapy, and many more.  For more information on these types of treatments, the following books are recommended:

  • Options: The Alternative Cancer Therapy Book by Richard Walters
  • Choices in Healing by Michael Lerner
  • An Alternative Medicine Definitive Guide to Cancer by W. John Diamond, W. Lee Cowden and Burton Goldberg.