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Be Wary of Cancer 'Cures'

While some alternative therapies can help, many don't work. Research shows that up to 30% of people with cancer have tried a so-called "cure" that doesn't have any benefits. They can be a waste of time and money. Even worse, some of these "remedies" are dangerous to your health and may affect how well other cancer treatments work.

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Alkaline Diets

This is based on lab studies that show cancer cells can't survive in a low-acid, or alkaline, environment. The theory is that eating certain foods and staying away from others will lower your body's acid level and keep cancer cells from growing. But what you eat doesn't affect how acidic your blood is. Your body controls that balance.

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Cannabis Oil

Made from marijuana plants, this is also called hemp or marijuana oil. Some think it can kill or shrink cancerous tumors, but no science backs that up. And while cannabis may ease the side effects of some cancer treatments, like nausea and loss of appetite, talk to your doctor before you try it. Some compounds in cannabis may affect how certain cancer drugs work. They also cause side effects like memory and attention loss.

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Cesium Chloride

This is a type of salt sold as an alternative cancer treatment. The theory is that it keeps cancer cells from spreading. Researchers have found no proof of that -- a small study showed that cesium chloride didn't help people with cancer. And side effects can include diarrhea, nausea, and an irregular heartbeat. In some cases, it can lead to serious, possibly life-threatening, heart problems.

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Herbal Remedies

No herbal products have been shown to treat or prevent cancer -- but they may keep chemotherapy and radiation therapy from working as well as they should. Research does suggest that some herbs can help ease side effects, though. For example, ginger may ease vomiting and nausea.

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Black Salve

This is a paste, cream, or ointment made with zinc chloride and herbs, such as a plant called bloodroot. Some say the salve targets cancerous tissue in your skin, but that's not true. Black salve damages any skin that it touches. It can destroy the top layer but leave the cancer underneath. And it can cause side effects like infection and scarring.

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Megadoses of Vitamin C

The idea that very high doses of vitamin C can treat cancer started in the 1970s. It was based on research that suggested the nutrient is toxic to cancer cells. But studies show that taking megadoses of vitamin C by mouth doesn't do anything for people with cancer. And it can affect how certain chemotherapy drugs work. Researchers are now looking at whether shots of vitamin C can help.

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Amygdalin (Laetrile)

This is an extract made from apricot pits and other plants. It's also known as Laetrile and vitamin B-17. Your body breaks down amygdalin into a toxic chemical called cyanide. Some people say this poison targets and kills cancer cells, but studies show it doesn't fight cancer and can lead to cyanide poisoning. Side effects include headaches, dizziness, and possibly life-threatening low blood pressure.

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Essential Oils

These are extracts made from plants, such as lavender and tea tree. You typically put them on your skin or breathe their scent. Fans of these oils say they have properties that can fight cancer, but science says that's not the case. They may help ease some side effects of cancer treatments, though, including anxiety, nausea, and depression.

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Positive Thinking

Research shows there's no link between personality traits and your chances of getting or surviving cancer. What a positive attitude can do is improve your quality of life during diagnosis and treatment. It can also help you better live with and manage the disease.

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Applied Kinesiology

This is based on the idea that your muscles are linked to certain organs, and muscle weakness is a sign of a health issue in those areas. Also called muscle strength testing, some use it to diagnose illnesses, including cancer, and make treatment decisions. But no science supports it, and research shows it doesn't work.

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With this, a liquid, such as water or coffee, is flushed through your colon. It's thought to detox your colon and intestines. Supporters think that if you rid those organs of toxins, your body is better able to fight cancer cells. But there's no proof that enemas can treat cancer or boost your health. And doing this often may lead to infection, dehydration, or a tear in your rectum. It may also affect the balance of electrolytes in your blood.

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Gerson Therapy

A doctor created this program in the 1940s as a treatment for migraines. Now some people use it for cancer. It involves a strict regimen of drinking 13 glasses of organic juice each day and eating vegetarian meals prepared without salt, spices, or oils. You also take a number of supplements and get regular enemas. Not only is this program not helpful for cancer, but experts warn that it can be harmful because you could miss out on important nutrients.

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Ozone Therapy

Ozone is a toxic form of oxygen. The basis for ozone therapy is the idea that extra oxygen makes it hard for tumors to grow. But ozone doesn't have any medical use, including treating cancer. And it can lead to serious side effects, like vein inflammation, chest pain, and heart issues.

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Talk to Your Doctor

If you're interested in trying an untraditional remedy, talk with your doctor first. They can help you understand if it might help and make sure it won't lead to dangerous side effects. And it's important to keep the lines of communication open with your doctor. One study found that people with cancer who used alternative remedies were more likely to refuse the treatment their doctor recommended.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 03/11/2021 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 11, 2021


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American Academy of Dermatology: "Beware of Black Salve."

American Cancer Society: "Positive Attitudes," "The Truth About Alternative Medical Treatments."

American Cancer Society Complete Guide to Complementary & Alternative Therapies, American Cancer Society, 2009.

American Institute for Cancer Research: "Alkaline Diets."

Cancer Metabolism: "Warburg Effect(s) — A Biographical Sketch of Otto Warburg and His Impacts on Tumor Metabolism."

Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "A Review of Black Salve: Cancer Specificity, Cure, and Cosmesis."

Explore (NY): "A Double-Blind, Randomized Study to Assess the Validity of Applied Kinesiology as a Diagnostic Tool and as a Nonlocal Proximity Effect."

Canadian Society of Intestinal Research (GI Society): "Oxygen Therapies."

JAMA Oncology: "Complementary Medicine, Refusal of Conventional Cancer Therapy, and Survival Among Patients With Curable Cancers."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Herbal Medicine."

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: "Fatal Cesium Chloride Toxicity After Alternative Cancer Treatment.

Mayo Clinic: "High-dose vitamin C: Can it kill cancer cells?" "Cancer Treatment Myths: Any Truth to These Common Beliefs?" "Is Colon Cleansing a Good Way to Eliminate Toxins from Your Body?"

National Cancer Institute: "Aromatherapy with Essential Oils," "Common Cancer Myths and Misconceptions," "Gerson Therapy," "High-Dose Vitamin C."

National Council Against Health Fraud: "Cancer Quackery."

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: "Essential Oils."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: "Amygdalin," "Cesium Chloride," "Gerson Regimen," "The Truth Behind Three Natural Cancer 'Cures,'" "Vitamin C."

FDA: "Maximum Acceptable Level of Ozone."

MD Anderson Cancer Center: "Alkaline Diet: What Cancer Patients Should Know."

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on March 11, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.