Complementary and alternative therapies for advanced cancer

You may wonder whether there are any complementary therapies you could try. There are many reasons people with advanced cancer consider using complementary therapies. You may want help managing the symptoms and side effects of conventional cancer treatment, such as fatigue, nausea or pain. Some people use complementary therapies to help them feel better and to feel they’ve got some control over their treatment.

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Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies can be used together with conventional medicine, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Research has shown that some complementary therapies can help people manage the various emotional and physical effects of cancer and its treatment. Examples include:

  • anxiety – meditation, relaxation, mindfulness, counselling, support groups, art therapy, music therapy, massage, hypnotherapy
  • fatigue – meditation, relaxation, exercise
  • pain – hypnotherapy, acupuncture, visualisation, massage
  • stress – meditation, relaxation, counselling, support groups, spiritual practices
  • nausea and vomiting – acupuncture, hypnotherapy

While some cancer treatment centres and palliative care services offer complementary therapies (e.g. art therapy, massage, meditation), you may have to see a private practitioner. You’ll have to pay for most complementary therapies. If you have private health insurance, check if your health fund provides a rebate for visits to a private practitioner. Some community centres offer group therapies, such as tai chi or yoga, for free or for a small charge.

For more on this, see Complementary therapies.

Let your doctor know if you plan to use any complementary or alternative therapies to make sure they do not result in harmful side effects or interfere with other medicines.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies are commonly defined as treatments used instead of conventional medicine. Many alternative therapies have not been scientifically tested, so there is no proof they stop cancer growing or spreading. Others have been tested and shown not to be effective.

When cancer has spread and treatment options are limited, some people consider alternative therapies. Friends and family may also tell you about alternative treatments. While side effects of alternative therapies are not always known, some can be harmful – for example, taking high-dose vitamins can have side effects, and eliminating food groups could mean that your diet no longer provides all the nutrients you need. Some alternative therapies may also be expensive and could affect management of your symptoms.

Be suspicious if any treatment:

  • claims to cure all cancers
  • requires you to travel overseas
  • claims the medical/pharmaceutical industry wants to stop its use
  • claims to have positive results with few or no side effects.

Cancer Council does not recommend the use of alternative therapies as a treatment for cancer. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission tracks health and medical scams to help the public spot and avoid scams. To find out more, visit

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on complementary therapies

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in December 2019
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