How does complementary and alternative medicine help cancer patients?

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Data have shown that 39% of Americans, usually over the age of 55, will be diagnosed with cancer. Clinical innovations, that aim to screen, treat, and potentially cure cancer practices, have increased the general survival rates among this population. More and more individuals seek complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to cope with the side and late effects of treatment.

Complementary and alternative medicine is divided into five broad categories of holistic practices

  1. Whole medical systems such as homoeopathy and naturopathy;

  2. Mind-body medicine such as meditation, prayer and yoga;

  3. Biologically based therapies such as herbs and special diets;

  4. Manipulative and body-based like chiropractic, osteopathy, and massage;

  5. Energy healing such as reiki.

These complementary and alternative medicines are preferred and used more by people diagnosed with cancer. In 2007 (NHIS), 65% of respondents who had ever been diagnosed with cancer used some type of CAM offering, as compared to 53% of respondents who had not been diagnosed.


Pain, insomnia, and ongoing psychological distress in this population can be reduced through complementary and alternative medicine. Specifically, #Reiki has been found to reduce a cancer patient’s pain, anxiety, and stress while it increases overall comfort and wellbeing. Other therapies like massage, healing touch therapy, painting, and music therapy, as well as physical activities, yoga, or Tai Chi have been shown to improve the general #wellbeing of those with cancer.

A.G. Fitzsimmons et al. investigated how cancer patient characteristics and utilization of complementary and alternative medicines resources, services, and activities at a regional cancer centre were associated with the patients’ understanding of their health needs, emotional health, and their ability to self-manage their condition. Over 70% of participants were between the ages of 51 and 69 years, 14.8% were 50 years old and younger and 14.8% were 70 years old and older. The majority of participants were female, 77.0%, and white 93.4%.

In addition,76% of the participants agreed that activities, resources, and/or services attended at the cancer centre improved the understanding about their health needs, 80% agreed that the offerings improved their emotional health, and 74% agreed that these activities helped with self-care behaviours.

Complementary and alternative medicine offerings highlight the role and importance of integrative medicine in cancer treatment regimens. Therefore, evidence-based and safe complementary therapies should be integrated with the standard of care for cancer therapy and cancer survivorship.

Source: Impact of complementary and alternative medicine offerings on cancer patients’ emotional health and ability to self-manage health conditions
A.G. Fitzsimmons et al. 2019
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