Natural and Alternative Treatments for Lung Cancer

When you have cancer, you’ll want to do everything you can to get well and feel better during treatment. Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are the usual treatments. But many people with cancer also explore other therapies, like yoga and acupuncture. Many major hospitals even offer some of these therapies together with mainstream medicine. Complementary medicine isn’t a lung cancer cure, but it can ease your symptoms and the side effects of traditional treatments.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

Even though they might seem similar, “complementary” and “alternative” mean different things when it comes to lung cancer treatments:

  • Complementary or integrative medicine. Doctors pair this with standard treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Most of the time, the goal is to manage symptoms and side effects like pain, an upset stomach, and sleep problems.
  • Alternative medicine. People with lung cancer usually choose these treatments instead of the usual ones, or when traditional therapies don’t work.

CAM Categories and Treatments

Complementary and alternative medicine breaks down into five main categories:

  • Alternative medical systems are whole systems of therapy and practice, like homeopathic or naturopathic medicine.
  • Mind-body interventions are techniques to enhance your mind’s effect on your body.
  • Herbalism uses plants as a treatment.
  • Manipulative and body-based methods involve moving or touching different parts of the body; for example, chiropractic and massage therapy.
  • Energy therapies seek to bring outside energy to you or to balance the energy inside you. Some types use sound, light, and magnets, and others use touch or movement.

Under this umbrella of categories, you’ll find more than 100 individual CAM treatments. Some of them can ease cancer symptoms:

  • Yoga is a low-impact series of poses that emphasizes breathing. Studies have shown that it can have benefits for strength, energy, and mental health for people who have even advanced lung cancer.
  • Massage puts pressure on your skin and muscles. It can help to ease pain and anxiety.
  • Reiki is a Japanese technique that uses touch to lower stress and help with relaxation and healing.
  • Acupuncture inserts thin needles into your skin. Research shows that it can ease nausea in people who have cancer.
  • Guided imagery or visualization is when you think of sights, sounds, and scents connected to reaching a goal or state of mind. Studies have shown that it can ease depression, raise feelings of well-being, and temporarily boost the number of your immune cells.
  • Dietary supplements are vitamins, minerals, herbs, or plant-based products.
  • Biofeedback is a drug-free type of brain training that could lessen pain and depression and improve energy and sleep.

Some say that “natural” therapies like herbal medicine, cannabis oil, laetrile (a purified form of a compound found in fruit pits or seeds), or other plant-based foods can kill cancer cells. There’s little or no scientific evidence to support these claims.

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Putting Standard and CAM Treatments Together

If you’re thinking about trying complementary treatment, you’ll want to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of your standard lung cancer treatments or cause side effects. Ask yourself and your doctor these questions:

  • Will it affect any current cancer treatments?
  • Does research show whether it’s effective?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • Will your cancer care and CAM teams work together?
  • If you have insurance, will it cover treatment costs, or will you need to pay out of pocket?

Research shows that people with cancer who combine complementary and standard therapies will often turn down further traditional treatments. This can lead to a lower 5-year survival rate and a higher chance of death. Before you start or stop any new or current therapy, talk to your doctor.

Things to Look Out For

Natural and alternative treatments can make you feel better. But some are harmful, and sometimes there’s no science to prove they’re safe or effective. Plus, the people who promote them as a cure may not have a background in medicine. Steer clear of treatments or providers that:

  • Claim to cure cancer
  • Tell you to stop your regular treatment
  • Are a “secret”
  • Require you to go to another country to get
  • Refuse to work with your doctor or health care provider

You can also check with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for more information about cancer treatment frauds.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 21, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer: “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”

American Lung Association: “Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Lung Cancer.”

The International Center for Reiki Training; “What is Reiki?”

Mayo Clinic: “Acupuncture,” “Lung cancer.”

Breastcancer.org: “Guided Imagery.”

American Cancer Society: “Dietary Supplements: What is Safe?”

Integrative Cancer Therapies: “A Systematic Review of the Effect of Neurofeedback in Cancer Patients.”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “The Truth behind Three Natural Cancer ‘Cures.’”

Case Reports in Oncology: “A Case of Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Treated with Korean Medicine Therapy Alone.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Alternative therapies for cancer.”

National Institutes of Health, Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, National Academies Press, 2005.

Dartmouth: “Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM).”

National Institute of Medical Herbalists: “Herbalism.”

University of Minnesota: “What Are Energy Therapies?”

Journal of Cancer Survivorship: “Complementary and alternative medicine use among cancer survivors: a population-based study.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Cancer: In Depth.”

Integrated Cancer Therapies: “Vivekananda Yoga Program for Patients with Advanced Lung Cancer and their Family Caregivers.”

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