Cancer and complementary therapies

The cancer treatment you have in hospital is standard or conventional medical treatment. 
Complementary therapies, such as yoga and massage, are treatments you can have alongside standard medical treatment. Some people find these treatments very helpful.This section gives you more information on the different types of cancer treatment and therapies.
In this section:

Conventional treatment

Conventional treatments are the ones that doctors normally use to treat people with cancer. These treatments include:
  • Surgery
  • Radiotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Biological therapy 
In Ireland, conventional cancer treatments are based on scientific research. Many of the treatments have been tested in clinical trials.
This allows doctors to predict the response to treatment, side-effects and the general effect of treatment. Conventional treatments are tried and trusted methods, with a long history of use.


Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are treatments that you can have alongside conventional treatment. They include therapies such as: 
  • Meditation
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Relaxation
  • Music, art and dance therapy
  • Visualisation
  • Shiatsu
  • Gentle massage
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Reflexology
  • Hypnotherapy
Many people find complementary therapies very helpful in a number of ways. As a cancer patient they may make you feel:
  • More positive about yourself and your illness.
  • Better able to cope with the physical side-effects of cancer and the distressing emotions cancer often brings.
  • More focussed spiritual dimensions, that also aid healing.


Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies are generally treatments that are used instead of conventional treatments. They can include;
  • Diet therapy
  • Megavitamin therapy
  • Herbalism
Alternative therapies are not scientifically proven. Some alternative therapies may even harm your health. Always talk to your doctor if you are considering an alternative to conventional treatment. Our book Understanding Cancer and Complementary Therapies: A Guide for Cancer Patients  describes the benefits and risks of a range of complementary therapies.  It can be downloaded via this link. 

If you decide to have complementary or alternative treatments

Talk to your doctor

Talk to your doctor or nurse if you are thinking of changing your treatment, or trying complementary therapies. Some methods can be safely used along with standard medical treatment. Others can interfere with standard treatment or cause serious side-effects. Don’t be afraid that your doctor will be offended, or judge you.  He or she may even be able to recommend safe and useful alternative therapies.

Choose carefully

Be careful when dedicing on a practitioner. Don’t be misled by promises of miracle cures and always find out:

  • Are they properly qualified?
  • Do they belong to a professional body?
  • Do they have a good reputation?
  • Are they charging a fair price?

Ask other people 

If you want to know what other patients have found helpful, contact a patient support group after talking to your doctor. Online patient groups and communities can be good places to ask other people about their experiences with complementary or alternative therapies. The Irish Cancer Society online community can be found at this link here.

Find out more from the Irish Cancer Society

Our free booklet Understanding Cancer and Complementary Therapies: A Guide for Cancer Patients explains the different types of therapies. It also gives advice on choosing a practitioner and explains the benefits and risks of most commonly used complementary and alternative therapies. 
Call our Cancer Nurseline on  Freephone 1800 200 700, or visit a Daffodil Centre to get a free copy of the booklet, or advice and support.
Date Last Reviewed: 
Wednesday, November 7, 2018