This search category targets the array of complimentary (CAM) therapies for people with cancer–not to treat cancer without the use of conventional medicine, because there is absolutely no good medical evidence that a purely “alternative medicine” instead of conventional medicine improves cancer patient survival. The real medical evidence around CAM for cancer is to prevent or treat side effects of treatment and other co-morbidities, and to promote and/or maintain general wellness. The evidence suggests that approaches from massage to meditation can improve cancer-related fatigue, pain, mental health and quality of life when used alongside standard cancer therapy.

Research Spotlight

The databases often return hundreds of medical studies for a single wellness approach. This section summarizes a sampling of studies – providing just a taste of the available research. These Spotlights were not selected because they are the most favorable or the most recent, but to provide you an introduction to the more extensive research you’ll uncover searching the four databases found in the “Research” section of this site.

  • Massage Therapy Promising for Reducing Pain, Fatigue and Anxiety in Cancer Populations
    The first (2016) systematic review to assess function-related outcomes and health-related quality of life in cancer pain populations (analyzing 16 studies) concluded that massage therapy appears promising for reducing pain intensity/severity, fatigue and anxiety in cancer populations.
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  • Swedish Massage Therapy Decreases Cancer-Related Fatigue
    A 2017 randomized trial from Emory University School of Medicine, studying breast cancer survivors that suffered cancer-related fatigue (CRF), indicated that weekly Swedish massage therapy for six weeks produced clinically significant relief of CRF–a debilitating condition for cancer survivors.
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  • Cochrane Review: Yoga Reduces Fatigue, Anxiety and Depression in Breast Cancer Patients
    A 2017 Cochrane review (24 studies, 2,166 women with breast cancer) concluded that the evidence supports yoga as an intervention for improving health-related quality of life and reducing fatigue, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety (when compared with psychosocial interventions such as counseling) for breast cancer patients. Lower-quality evidence also suggests that yoga might be as effective as other exercise interventions for these patients.
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  • CRD Review: Exercise Reduces Fatigue for Cancer Patients
    A Centre for Reviews & Dissemination (CRD, University of York) meta-review (70 studies, 4,881 patients) found that exercising roughly three times a week for around 45 minutes significantly reduced cancer-related fatigue for patients undergoing, or recovering from, cancer treatment.
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  • Mindfulness-based Training Reduces Stress, Fatigue and Proinflammatory Signaling in Breast Cancer Survivors
    A randomized controlled trial from UCLA showed that a 6-week program of Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) led to significant short-term reductions in stress, proinflammatory gene expression and inflammatory signaling, post-intervention for women under-50 with breast cancer. Other improvements included reduced fatigue, sleep disturbance and vasomotor symptoms and increased peace, meaning and positive affect.
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  • Cannabis: An Effective, Safe Option to Help Patients Cope with Cancer-Related Symptoms
    A 2018 meta-review in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, analyzing 2,970 cancer patients treated with medical cannabis, found that cannabis was a well-tolerated, effective and safe palliative option for cancer-related symptoms–from nausea and lack of appetite to sleep problems and pain.
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  • Cancer Patients Choosing Exclusively Alternative Medicine Treatment 2.5x More Likely to Die
    A 2017 Yale School of Medicine study analyzed 281 patients with non-metastatic breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancers who chose to be treated exclusively with an alternative medicine approach, and compared survival with patients receiving conventional cancer treatment. Overall, those in the alternative medicine group were 2.5 times more likely to die. An observational study, it only demonstrates association between exclusively alternative medicine use and survival. Information on the type of alternative treatments that were used was not available.
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