Cancer Treatment Support

Cancer is a disease that happens when cells divide without control or order. This can cause a tumor to form. Some tumors spread cancer to other parts of the body.

Most cancers are treated with chemotherapy and radiation to kill cancer cells. Some people may need surgery. Natural therapies have been used to ease symptoms of cancer treatment. They should not be used in place of standard care.

Natural Therapies

Likely Effective

These therapies are likely to ease symptoms of cancer or cancer treatment:

  • Bee propolis is the resin-like substance that bees use to coat their hives.B10, B13
  • Melatonin is a hormone made by the body to help regulate sleep.B2
  • Traditional Chinese medicine is the use of acupuncture, diet, herbs, meditation, and other therapies to restore balance to the body.B23

May Be Effective

These therapies may ease symptoms of cancer or cancer treatment:

  • Branched-chain amino acids are a type of nutritional supplement.B26
  • Cannabis is an herb that can be taken as a supplement. ( Note : It should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.)B3, B9. B14, B37-B39
  • Chinese herbal medicine is the use of herbs to restore balance to the body.B19, B21, B22, B24, B25, B27, B28, B30-B33, B35
  • Honey is a thick liquid made by honey bees.B12
  • Guarana is a vine with seeds that can be taken as a supplement or made into a drink or tea. ( Note : It should not be taken by people who have depression. It may interact with their medicine)B1
  • Probiotics are microorganisms that are taken to promote health.B15

Other therapies that may help are:

  • Acupuncture is the use of fine needles in the body to ease health problems.A1-A3
  • Yoga is the use of body poses and breathing.C1

May Not Be Effective

Vitamin C is found in some foods and can also be taken as a supplement. It may not have benefit.B29

Unlikely to Be Effective

These therapies are unlikely to ease symptoms of cancer or cancer treatment:

  • Aloe is a plant that can be applied to the skin as a gel, salve, or cream.B4
  • Carnitine is a compound that can be taken as a supplement.B20
  • Glutamine is a compound found in the body.B8, B11
  • Goshajinkigan is a Japanese traditional herbal medicine.B19
  • Vitamin B6 is used by the body to make cells for blood flow and brain function. ( Note : Vitamin B6 should not be taken by people who have anxiety or narcolepsy. It is also not safe to take with most medicines used to treat cancer.)B6

Not Enough Data to Assess

Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.

Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some can interfere with treatment or make conditions worse, such as:

  • Cannabis should not be taken by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Guarana should not be taken by people who have depression. It may interact with their medicine.
  • Vitamin B6 is not safe to take with most medicines used to treat cancer. It should also not be taken by people who have anxiety or narcolepsy as it may interact with their medicine.

Talk to your doctor about any supplements or therapy you would like to use. Some may get in the way of treatment. They can also make illness worse or cause new problems. Examples include:

 

References

Acupuncture

A1. Rithirangsriroj K, Machana T, et al. Efficacy of acupuncture in prevention of delayed chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting in gynecologic cancer patients. Gynecol Oncol. 2015;136(1):82-86.

A2. Lu D, Lu D, et al. [Electrothermal acupuncture in the prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: a randomized controlled trial. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2017;37(4):335-359.

A3. Lau CH, Wu X, et al. Acupuncture and Related Therapies for Symptom Management in Palliative Cancer Care: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Mar;95(9):e2901. Review. Erratum in: Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 May 20;95(20):e90e6.

Herbs and Supplements

B1. de Oliveira Campos MP, Riechelmann R, et al. Guarana (Paullinia cupana) improves fatigue in breast cancer patients undergoing systematic chemotherapy. J Altern Complement Med. 2011;17(6):505-512.

B2. Seely D, Wu P, et al. Melatonin as adjuvant care with and without chemotherapy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Integr Cancer Ther. 2012;11(4):293-303.

B3. Smith LA, Azariah F, et al. Cannabinoids for nausea and vomiting in adults with cancer receiving chemotherapy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(11):CD009464.

B4. Hoopfer D, Holloway C, et al. Three-arm phase III trial: quality aloe and placebo cream versus powder as skin treatment during breast cancer radiation therapy. Clin Breast Cancer. 2015 Jun;15(3):181-190.

B5. Ward EJ, Henry LM, et al. Nutritional support in children and young people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(8):CD003298.

B6. Jo SJ, Shin H, et al. Prophylactic and therapeutic efficacy of pyridoxine supplements in the management of hand-foot syndrome during chemotherapy: a meta-analysis. Clin Exp Dermatol. 2015;40(3):260-270.

B7. Jin X, Ruiz Beguerie J, et al. Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom) for cancer treatment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;4:CD007731.

B8. Leung HW, Chan AL. Glutamine in Alleviation of Radiation-Induced Severe Oral Mucositis: A Meta-Analysis. Nutr Cancer. 2016;68(5):734-742.

B9. Morales M, Corsi O, et al. Are cannabinoids effective for the management of chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting? Medwave. 2017;17(9):e7119.

B10. Piredda M, Facchinetti G, et al. Propolis in the prevention of oral mucositis in breast cancer patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2017;26(6):12757.

B11. Cao DD, Xu HL, et al. Therapeutic role of glutamine in management of radiation enteritis: a meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials. Oncotarget. 2017;8(18):30595-30605.

B12. Charalambous M, Raftopoulos V, et al. The effect of the use of thyme honey in minimizing radiation-induced oral mucositis in head and neck cancer patients: A randomized controlled trial. Eur J Oncol Nurs. 2018;34:89-97.

B13. Kuo CC, Wang RH, et al. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of the efficacy of propolis mouthwash in cancer therapy-induced oral mucositis. Support Care Cancer. 2018;26(12):4001-4009.

B14. Allan GM, Finley CR, et al. Systematic review of systematic reviews for medical cannabinoids: Pain, nausea and vomiting, spasticity, and harms. Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(2):e78-e94.

B15. Wei D, Heus P, et al. Probiotics for the prevention or treatment of chemotherapy- or radiotherapy-related diarrhoea in people with cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Aug 31;8:CD008831.

B16. Howes N, Atkinson C, et al. Immunonutrition for patients undergoing surgery for head and neck cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Aug 30;8:CD010954.

B17. Kim KI, Jun JH, et al. Oral administration of herbal medicines for radiation pneumonitis in lung cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2018 May 30;13(5):e0198015.

B19. Kuriyama A, Endo K. Goshajinkigan for prevention of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Support Care Cancer. 2018 Apr;26(4):1051-1059.

B20. Marx W, Teleni L, et al. Efficacy and Effectiveness of Carnitine Supplementation for Cancer-Related Fatigue: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 7;9(11). pii: E1224.

B21. Chung VC, Wu X, et al. Chinese Herbal Medicine for Symptom Management in Cancer Palliative Care: Systematic Review And Meta-analysis. Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Feb;95(7):e2793. Review. Erratum in: Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 May 20;95(20):e6650.

B22. Chung VC, Wu X, Hui EP, Ziea ET, Ng BF, Ho RS, Tsoi KK, Wong SY, Wu JC. Effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for cancer palliative care: overview of systematic reviews with meta-analyses. Sci Rep. 2015 Dec 16;5:18111.

B23. Tao W, Luo X, et al. Practice of traditional Chinese medicine for psycho-behavioral intervention improves quality of life in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Oncotarget. 2015 Nov 24;6(37):39725-39739.

B24. Wang X, Lin H, et al. A meta-analysis of Kang`ai injection combined with chemotherapy in the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. J Cancer Res Ther. 2015 Jul Sep;11(3):558-564.

B25. Jiang H, Zhang H, et al. A meta-analysis of Shenqi Fuzheng combined with radiation in the treatment of nonsmall cell lung cancer. J Cancer Res Ther. 2015 Aug;11 Suppl 1:C101-3.

B26. Chen L, Chen Y, et al. Efficacy and safety of oral branched-chain amino acid supplementation in patients undergoing interventions for hepatocellular carcinoma: a meta-analysis. Nutr J. 2015 Jul 9;14:67.

B27. Lee JW, Lee WB, et al. Traditional herbal medicine for cancer pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Apr;23(2):265-74.

B28. Kim W, Lee WB, et al. Traditional herbal medicine as adjunctive therapy for nasopharyngeal cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Integr Cancer Ther. 2015 May;14(3):212-220.

B29. Jacobs C, Hutton B, et al. Is there a role for oral or intravenous ascorbate (vitamin C) in treating patients with cancer? A systematic review. Oncologist. 2015 Feb;20(2):210-223.

B30. Ma LX, Ai P, et al. The prophylactic use of Chinese herbal medicine for chemotherapy-induced leucopenia in oncology patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Support Care Cancer. 2015 Feb;23(2):561-579.

B31. Liu ZL, Zhu WR, et al. Traditional Chinese medicinal herbs combined with epidermal growth factor receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor for advanced non-small cell lung cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Integr Med. 2014 Jul;12(4):346-358.

B32. Su CX, Wang LQ, et al. Chinese herbal medicine for cancer-related fatigue: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Complement Ther Med. 2014 Jun;22(3):567-579.

B33. Yanju B, Yang L, et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis on the use of traditional Chinese medicine compound kushen injection for bone cancer pain. Support Care Cancer. 2014 Mar;22(3):825-836.

B34. Lee MS, Choi TY, et al. Moxibustion for cancer care: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Cancer. 2010 Apr 7;10:130.

B35. Chen S, Flower A, et al. Oral Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) as an adjuvant treatment during chemotherapy for non-small cell lung cancer: A systematic review. Lung Cancer. 2010 May;68(2):137-145.

B36. Mücke M, Weier M, Carter C, Copeland J, Degenhardt L, Cuhls H, Radbruch L, Häuser W, Conrad R. Systematic review and meta-analysis of cannabinoids in palliative medicine. J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2018 Apr;9(2):220-234. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12273. Epub 2018 Feb 5. Review. PubMed PMID: 29400010; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5879974.

B37. Cabeza C, Corsi O, Pérez-Cruz P. Are cannabinoids an alternative for cachexia-anorexia syndrome in patients with advanced cancer? Medwave. 2017 Dec 29;17(9):e7130. doi: 10.5867/medwave.2017.09.7130. Review. Spanish, English. PubMed PMID: 29286357.

B38. Lobos Urbina D, Peña Durán J. Are cannabinoids effective for treatment of pain in patients with active cancer? Medwave. 2016 Sep 14;16 Suppl 3:e6539. doi: 10.5867/medwave.2016.6539. Review. English, Spanish. PubMed PMID: 27635982.

B39. Phillips RS, Friend AJ, Gibson F, Houghton E, Gopaul S, Craig JV, Pizer B. Antiemetic medication for prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in childhood. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Feb 2;2:CD007786. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD007786.pub3. Review. PubMed PMID: 26836199.

Yoga

C1. Chaoul A, Milbury K, et al. Randomized trial of Tibetan yoga in patients with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer. 2018;124(1):36-45.

D. Nutritional Interventions

D1. Henson CC, Burden S, et al. Nutritional interventions for reducing gastrointestinal toxicity in adults undergoing radical pelvic radiotherapy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Nov 26;(11):CD009896.

Last reviewed October 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC  Last Updated: 5/27/2020