Colorectal Cancer

Complementary approaches and bowel cancer

Complementary approaches to dealing with cancer have not been subject to the same kinds of rigorous testing as conventional medicine so their effects are not measured or proven in the same way. Moreover, as the name 'complementary' suggests, these approaches should be considered an addition to and not a substitute for conventional medical treatment. Complementary approaches help some people to feel more in control of their situation by involving them in their own care, and by promoting a positive mental outlook and sense of well-being. 

None of the people who tried complementary approaches had unrealistic expectations of what they could do. Two had tried and rejected homeopathic or herbal remedies because they found them expensive and ineffective. A man with terminal cancer had rejected one holistic approach because it was very time-consuming and involved major lifestyle changes. He felt that he was "going to become a sick person because of everything they want me to do." Instead he preferred to get on with his work, family and friends. However, other people felt that a variety of approaches had made a positive contribution to their health. 

Several people focused on diet and had reduced or eliminated alcohol, sugar, meat or dairy products from their diets while increasing their intake of organic foods, whole grains, and cereals. Others were taking vitamins or nutritional supplements like arnica and selenium, which they believed promoted healing especially after surgery.

Others used techniques like meditation and visualisation to reduce stress and to help them focus positively on the future. A number of people had tried Reiki (a form of spiritual healing) and believed it had a positive effect. A woman with terminal cancer describes her positive experience of spiritual healing despite her scepticism about it.

The usefulness of reconciling conventional and complementary approaches was stressed by several people. One woman explains the benefits of a holistic approach to cancer. Another man expresses disappointment at the reluctance of some conventional practitioners to consider the benefits of allowing patients to be more involved in their own care.

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Last reviewed August 2016.

Last updated May 2010.


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