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.
These therapies are likely to ease symptoms of cancer or cancer treatment:
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:
May Not Be Effective
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.
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:
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.
B 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.
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.
E1 Marullo R, Castro M, et al. The metabolic adaptation evoked by arginine enhances the effect of radiation in brain metastases. Sci Adv. 2021;7(45):eabg1964. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abg1964.
- Reviewer: EBSCO NAT Review Board Eric Hurwitz, DC
- Review Date: 10/2019
- Update Date: 11/08/2021