Complementary cancer therapies

fruit or vegetable

Are they right for you?

Many cancer patients use some complementary approaches along with conventional cancer treatments, like chemotherapy or radiation. Others try alternative care in place of conventional medicine. How do you know what's safe — and effective?

Alternative or complementary?

Person getting a back massageAlternative care is used in place of conventional medicine, while complementary care is used along with conventional medicine.

We strongly recommend using complementary and conventional methods together, rather than using alternative treatments alone. That means that you may see your doctor and use nontraditional therapies to treat the same condition, for example:

  • using guided imagery to help with recovery after surgery
  • drinking ginger tea to reduce nausea during chemotherapy
  • doing breathing exercises to relieve pain

Complementary approaches may help by:

  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • helping you feel more in control of your care and wellbeing
  • easing the side effects of cancer treatments

How do you know what's safe?

Man drinking teaJust because lots of people use a product or follow a practice for many years, it doesn't mean that it's safe or effective.

  • "Natural" doesn't mean "safe." If it's strong enough to have an effect, it's strong enough to have a side effect.
  • Avoid any product or therapy that claims it can cure a serious disease.

It's important to talk to your doctor about complementary approaches you're thinking of trying, because some herbs and supplements may interfere with your other treatments.

You can also use one of these reliable sources to read up on complementary therapies:

National Cancer InstituteKaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps. 
National Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)Kaiser Permanente is not responsible for the content or policies of external Internet sites, or mobile apps.
Natural Medicines Database

Mind-body therapies

Yoga classYour mind and body are intertwined, so your brain often can't distinguish whether you're imagining something or you're actually experiencing it.

That's why your mind can help relieve stress and pain.

Breathing exercises
Dance and movement therapy
Guided imagery
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis
Laughter therapy
Muscle relaxation
Music therapy

Body work

Body work can help relieve pain and make you feel better.


Chinese medicine

Qi gong classChinese medicine is partly based on the idea that energy, called qi ("chee"), flows along pathways in the body.

Chinese medicine doctors look at the balance of body, mind, and spirit to determine how to restore your qi's balance. Acupuncture and acupressure may help treat nausea and control pain caused by cancer treatments.

Tai chi and qi gong

Energy therapy

Energy therapy, also known as "biofield therapy," is based on the idea that the body contains — and is surrounded by — energy fields. Energy therapy, which is unproven, is thought to improve health by working with these energy fields.

Healing touch and spiritual healing
Magnetic field therapy

Reviewed by Kaiser Permanente in 2018

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