Are Alternative Therapies Helpful If You Have Cancer?

The short answer from an oncologist

A pair of hands displaying homeopathic capsules in one hand and broccoli in the other

Q: What should I know about alternative therapies for cancer treatment? Are they helpful?

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A: Cancer therapies have evolved in recent years — and the number of options can seem overwhelming if you’ve been newly diagnosed.

When faced with a cancer diagnosis, the first thing to do is have an honest and open conversation with an oncologist.

You need to address: “What is the goal of therapy? Are we trying to cure your cancer? Are we trying to improve symptoms related to your cancer? Are we trying to make you live longer? What are our goals?” It really sets the tone for what the therapies will look like moving forward.

Many people are curious to learn more about alternative therapies (like enzyme and oxygen therapy, diet, vitamins and minerals) for cancer treatment. In fact, a recent survey indicates that nearly 4 in 10 Americans believe that cancers can be cured using alternative therapies alone.

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But these alternatives are generally used in addition to traditional therapies (like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation), not in place of them.

There’s currently no research that shows any alternative therapies can work on their own to treat or cure cancer. But some can be helpful for managing symptoms.

It’s important to discuss alternative therapies with your doctor before trying them. Why? They could cause an interaction with some cancer medications, making treatments less effective. Or some alternative therapies may also increase toxicity.

You should strive for good, open communication with your care team from the very beginning — from the oncologist to you to your caregivers.

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The goal is always to give you the most effective therapy available. Still, you need to be comfortable with your treatment plan. Getting a second opinion is often a good idea.

That may mean going to a cancer treatment program, weighing your options and ultimately going with the one you’re the most comfortable with.

— Oncologist Dale Shepard, MD, PhD

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