Alternative Cancer Treatments: Why ‘Complementary’ May Be Better

complementary or alternative cancer treatments

Should you choose alternative cancer treatments? Or should you go the complementary route? What’s the difference anyway? Here, we will clarify what these terms mean. And which is the better option. Actually, the answer is pretty clear.

So you have cancer. What are your treatment options?

alternative cancer treatments or mainstreamAfter a cancer diagnosis, you have very little time to deal with the shock. Your focus immediately shifts to getting the best course of treatment. And so begins your research. In parallel, you will receive well-meaning, but often conflicting advice, from all directions.

Conventional Treatments

For the vast majority, Conventional treatments (also called “mainstream”) is the primary and default treatment option. This makes complete sense. Highly qualified medical practitioners use hi-tech diagnostics, surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immuno-therapy, widely and successfully. Steady scientific and technological advances – rigorous research, testing, documentation – give you a lot of comfort.

However, you will also hear that mainstream treatments have many “downsides”: they are “toxic”, with “unbearable” side-effects, provide “no guarantees” and “hugely expensive”. (These opinions are partially true, too!)

Alternative Cancer Treatments

Hence, many people will give you contrary advice, to consider alternative cancer treatments. The benefits seem very attractive: they are natural, inexpensive and are often based on ancient, tried-and-tested healing systems.

Alternative means “instead of”.

In fact, some practitioners may even advise you, with great confidence,  to replace or substitute your mainstream treatments with their approaches. This can be risky and we do not recommend it. 

So the question remains: Why are alternative cancer treatments so popular?

alternative cancer treatments

  • People want treatments that are effective (similar results) and non-toxic (minus the dreadful side-effects)
  • Many alternative cancer treatments promise this, based on isolated success stories of miraculous cures
  • Increasingly, people distrust doctors, big pharma companies and medical institutions in general. They perceiving them to be greedy and manipulative
  • Besides, many people simply miss the human touch of warmth and care. They find it difficult to communicate their real feelings and concerns to their extremely busy doctors.

Not surprisingly, studies indicate that close to 40% of cancer patients have tried at least one non-conventional therapy and many as 80% of them don’t inform their doctors/ insurance providers about this.

New Research Challenges Alternative Cancer Treatments

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute, USA published a recent study by the Yale School of Medicine. The study compared 258 users of alternative cancer treatments (case group) with 560 users of conventional treatments (control group). The researchers took care to match the two groups for age, gender, demographics and cancer type (breast, prostate, lung and colorectal). The main findings are:


1. Five-year Survival Rates

  • Overall, people who took conventional treatments (control group) were 2.5 times more likely to live for at least 5 years, compared to people who used alternative cancer treatments alone (case group)

alternative cancer treatments stats


  • The type of cancer makes a big difference.
    • For breast cancer, the control group was 5 times more likely to live for at least 5 years, compared to the case group
    • For colorectal cancer, the control group was 4 times more likely to live for at least 5 years, compared to the case group
    • And for lung cancer, the control group was 2 times more likely to live for at least five years, compared to the case group
    • However, for prostate cancer, there was little difference in the 5-year survival rates

2. Speed of action is the key

  • Conventional treatments are more effective because they work more aggressively and immediately to remove the tumour and arrest its growth.
  • Alternative cancer treatments are riskier because they work more slowly. Hence, there is a greater chance of the cancer “advancing” i.e. getting larger in size or spreading to lymph nodes or spreading to distant sites. As a result, the chances of a cure falls drastically.

3. Demographics can play a part

People who chose alternative cancer treatments alone (case group)

  • Were mostly better educated women with higher incomes
  • Took the ‘alternative’ route despite having more advanced cancers
  • A much larger proportion of the case group refused conventional treatments
    • 7% refused surgery (Vs. 0.1% of the control group)
    • 34% refused chemotherapy (Vs. 3.2% of the control group
    • 53% refused radiotherapy (Vs. 2.3% of the control group)
    • 33% refused hormone therapy (Vs. 2.8% of the control group)

4. Important Caveat

The study found no differences in survival rates, once they adjusted for conventional treatment refusal. This means the survival rates are the same if patients take a  complementary approach i.e. use these therapies along with conventional treatments.

Why A Complementary Approach Makes Sense

If you are willing to take a more inclusive approach, we believe you can get the benefits and minimise the risks of conventional and alternative approaches, i.e. the best of both worlds.

Complementary means “along with”

To learn more about Complementary approaches to cancer, click here.


  • What are the pros and cons of conventional and alternative cancer treatments, as YOU see them? What about your family members?
  • How open are you to consider complementary therapies alongside mainstream treatment?
  • Who can guide you through this process … have you considered finding and working with a Cancer Coach?


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