Cancer treatments

Cancer is treated in different ways. This information will help you understand the different types of treatments people may seek out.


What it is also called: Medical, proven, orthodox, standard, mainstream

How it is used: Used alone or in combination. The treatment you have depends on the type, stage and location of the cancer, your age and general health

How it works: Slows or stops the growth and spread of cancer and provides relief from symptomsConventional treatments


  • surgery
  • radiotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • hormone therapy
  • immunotherapy

Evidence: Based on scientific evidence and successful clinical trial


What it is also called: Complementary medicine, holistic therapies, natural therapies, traditional therapies or traditional medicine

How it is used: Used together with conventional treatments

How it works: Focus on the whole person not just the cancer. May help people cope better with symptoms of cancer and side effects caused by conventional treatments


  • acupuncture
  • aromatherapy
  • art therapy
  • massage
  • meditation
  • support groups
  • yoga

Evidence: Some used for hundreds or thousands of years but little or no scientific evidence

Alternative therapies

What it is also called: Unproven or unconventional treatments

How it is used: Used in place of conventional treatments. May be promoted as a cancer cure

How it works: Not known. Using alternative therapies in place of conventional treatment could delay or stop the cancer being treated


  • microwave therapy
  • ozone therapy
  • magnet therapy
  • coffee enemas
  • Gerson diet
  • high-dose vitamin supplements
  • laetrile
  • shark cartilage

Evidence: Many have not been scientifically tested, so there is no proof that they work; others have been disproven in studies. Side effects are not always known

What is the evidence?

Conventional cancer treatments have been through a range of tests to prove their safety and effectiveness. New treatments are first tested in laboratories and then on large groups of people in what is called a clinical trial.

The strongest evidence comes from clinical trials that involve two groups of people.

  • One group is given the new treatment.
  • The other group is given the existing standard treatment.
  • The two groups are compared.
  • Results are published in medical journals whose articles are evaluated by independent experts (peer- reviewed). If the new treatment works better than existing options, it becomes the standard treatment.

Although some complementary therapies have little, or no, scientific evidence to support their use for cancer, they have been used for hundreds or thousands of years for various ailments and conditions. Their effectiveness has been based on trial and error, and this knowledge has been passed down by word of mouth.

With the increasing use of complementary therapies, many therapies are now being tested scientifically to see how well they actually work, and why they are effective.

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