- Cancer Information
- Advanced cancer
- Living with advanced cancer
- Treatment for advanced cancer
- Complementary and alternative therapies
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.
Learn more about:
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 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 scamwatch.gov.au.
Prof Nicholas Glasgow, Head, Calvary Palliative and End of Life Care Research Institute, ACT; Kathryn Bennett, Nurse Practitioner, Eastern Palliative Care Association Inc., VIC; Dr Maria Ftanou, Head, Clinical Psychology, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, The University of Melbourne, VIC; Erin Ireland, Legal Counsel, Cancer Council NSW; Nikki Johnston, Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner, Clare Holland House, Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, ACT; Judy Margolis, Consumer; Linda Nolte, Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kate Reed- Cox, Nurse Practitioner, National Clinical Advisor, Palliative Care Australia; Helena Rodi, Project Manager, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kaitlyn Thorne, Coordinator Cancer Support, 13 11 20, Cancer Council Queensland.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.