Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Cancer

July 29, 2022 1 By Pratima Mehta

What are alternative or complementary treatment options? Do they work? Read the post for some practical advice on choosing your treatment.


The weather has turned pleasant. The showers have given the much-needed respite from the classic Indian heat. I can hear the children playing outside, the happy shouting mixed with the noise of the swing creaking at the hinges. Not the right ambience to either read or write about such a dire topic. This makes me think about options. Option is categorically defined as the power or right to choose – freedom of choice. Choosing tea over coffee, work from home over office days, hike over a siesta, Netflix over writing, and so on. Just mundane this over that, where we go by the flow and making a choice is easy. Extend the concept of options to medical treatment and there is a disparity in perspective. Are there options for cancer? Maybe or maybe not. Choosing one treatment over another or trying an alternative treatment entails hard decision-making. But can be made easy if we keep in mind the basics: what is the goal of the treatment?


What is alternative and complementary therapy?

Conventional treatment is always the first choice or line of treatment. Conventional medicine used in mainstream treatment, mostly allopathic, relies on methods proved to be safe and effective through trials and research. But there are other options that one may wish to try. The terms alternative and complementary are used interchangeably, however, they differ in meaning. Alternative therapies are used instead of a conventional or standard medical treatment. Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional treatment and care i.e., in parallel or in addition to standard medical protocol. Medically, the two terms are often combined into alternative and complementary therapies (CAMs). Examples of such therapies and practices include ayurvedic, homeopathy, naturopathy, reiki, acupuncture, acupressure, spiritual healing, yoga, meditation, etc.


Why do people choose alternative or complementary therapy?

People may choose to try various therapies for different reasons. A therapy might be used as an alternative often as a last resort when conventional medicine cannot do much or yields no desired result. Here the alternative treatment is used with the hope of treating or curing the disease – one last desperate measure. Complementary therapies are used simultaneously with standard treatment to manage symptoms and cope with the side-effects of cancer treatment. Mind and body techniques like yoga, meditation, reiki, etc. may be used to bring comfort and ease stress. Most CAMs are believed to have less side effects even with long-term use. Emotionally speaking, an alternative or complementary practice or medicine may give the feeling of doing something more or trying everything to rid your body of the disease.


What are the things to consider?

This is the main purpose of this post and I hope few points here will help decide the treatment. Writing this is a bit tricky as I cannot give an opinion on the therapy or practice you should try. I have seen and heard of the benefits of complementary treatments/practices for many ailments – allergy, asthma, arthritis, diabetes, etc. There is no treatment for cancer that I can 100% vouch for and I am not a doctor or practitioner. So read this with an open mind, take it with a pinch of salt and be pragmatic.

  • What is the purpose – Why are you going for a complementary or alternative therapy? What is the aim for the patient and family? How will it exactly benefit? If yoga under proper guidance will bring stress- or symptom-relief with all means go for it. If you are going to try some traditional or Chinese medicine, because a relative or friend suggested it, pause for a moment and read the next points.
  • What is the cost – Let’s address the elephant in the room. A family is usually ready to spend as much as possible without a second thought. After all thinking about money at such times is being stingy, isn’t it? Cancer treatments are financially taxing. Just be careful of in whose pocket the money turns up into. A doctor once said to me, ‘You have already spent in lakhs, then why not spend some more on my recommendations?’ I will decide (for myself) I had replied.
  • Does it really work – Well, well-wishers around you are going to advice and suggest about different treatments. And there are success stories too. But be cautious, look for evidence, and start a therapy only if you believe it has some benefit – emotionally or physically. It is recommended to go to registered practitioners only. There is definitely no harm in trying a treatment with zero or low side-effects and is non-interfering.

In summary, weigh the odds. Do not undertake any risks and remember that any kind of treatment is just a means of ‘trying’ options to cure.



What treatment options did we explore?

Here is a list of therapies we explored while Ira was in the hospital or at home. Again, a word of caution that treatments are subjective to body type, age and, most importantly, medical condition.


We started Ira on homeopathy while still at the hospital with due permission from her treating pediatric. Her scans after surgery did not look good and we thought homeopathy might help. Subsequently, we changed 3 doctors for homeopathy, and I don’t know if it worked given the physiological condition Ira was in.  My previous experience with homeopathy for PCOS and allergy in the family was okayish I would say.



Simarouba or Paradise tree is what we tried based on a friend’s recommendation, arranged to be delivered to us from Bangalore. The powder had to be boiled in water to make a kadha. Again, given with due consultation with the treating doctor. It helped (or I believe it helped) to control Ira’s fever, which had refused to go away for over 1 week despite being on a combination of analgesics.


Mahikari and Reiki

Both Sukyo Mahikari and Reiki are spiritual healing techniques. Reiki was given remotely by a reiki master. Sukyo Mahikari is a Japanese method of giving ‘True Light’ to improve the quality of life and attain happiness. There are centers across India and is widely practiced. During our stay in Mumbai, a very kind lady practitioner came down every alternate day to give Ira the light. You can read more about her in this post. Unheard of, Sukyo Mahikari was recommended by a close relative who has experienced immense benefit with its practice.


Craniosacral therapy (CST)

We could only explore the option and not try this. CST is not recommended for patients who have undergone brain surgery. As per this site – Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a gentle hands-on technique that uses a light touch to examine membranes and movement of the fluids in and around the central nervous system. Relieving tension in the central nervous system promotes a feeling of well-being by eliminating pain and boosting health and immunity. It may provide relief from a variety of symptoms including headaches, neck pain and side effects of cancer treatment among many others. There are some well-known therapists in Pune and Mumbai for CST.



Physiotherapy is widely known and used to help recover function and movement of joints, tendons and muscles in individuals affected by disability, illness or injury. Neurophysiotherapy is a specialist branch of physiotherapy dedicated to improving the function of patients who have suffered physical impairment caused by neurological conditions. It may help the brain maintain its plasticity. However, we could not try this due to muscle stiffness and restricted movements in Ira.



Did you explore any complementary or alternative options? Tell me in comments below about your experience.