Different cancer treatments

The most effective form of treatment for cancer is conventional medicine. Some people use complementary therapies as well to relieve side effects of their cancer treatments. Alternative therapies have not been shown to be effective in treating cancer.

What are the differences between conventional medicine, complementary therapies, and alternative therapies?

  • Conventional medicine – This can be used to control or cure cancer by slowing or stopping the growth and spread of the disease. It can also provide relief from symptoms. Conventional treatments are based on scientific evidence and successful clinical trials, and include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatment. The treatment you have depends on the type, stage and location of the cancer, your age and general health.
  • Complementary therapies and medicines – These tend to focus on the whole person, not just the cancer. They may help people cope better with symptoms of cancer and/or side effects caused by conventional treatments. Research into complementary therapies and medicines is increasing.
  • Alternative therapies and medicines – These are used in place of conventional medical treatments. This can delay or stop the cancer being treated effectively. Many alternative therapies have not been scientifically tested, so there is no proof they stop cancer growing or spreading. Others have been shown to not be effective. Side effects of alternative treatments are not always known.
Integrative medicine is the combined use of conventional cancer treatments and evidence-based complementary therapies.

What is the evidence behind these complementary therapies? Read more here.


This information was last reviewed in May 2015
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