Top Therapies and Practices Beneficial across Several Cancer Types

Laura PoleAuthors

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, BCCT Senior Researcher

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Nancy Hepp, MS, BCCT Project Manager

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Contributor

Maria Williams, BCCT Research & Communications Consultant

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Last updated July 12, 2021.

Top Therapies at a Glance

Our evaluation finds that some healing practices, habits, and complementary therapies have reasonably good evidence of benefit across several cancer types. This is important for these reasons:

  • You can focus on the therapies with the best effectiveness.
  • Cross-cancer effectiveness gives us a hint that these therapies may be useful in some less common cancers that share characteristics with the researched cancers. Many therapies have not yet been investigated in less common cancer types.

We drew from many sources for candidates for this list, then we reviewed the evidence of effectiveness for each therapy across different types of cancer.

We do not consider complementary therapies, healing practices and healthy habits to be enough to cure or arrest cancer. You’ll see that many of the therapies that we list for “treating cancer” actually work in tandem with conventional treatments. A few may provide treatment alternatives if you've exhausted all your conventional treatment options.

Healing practices, healthy habits, and complementary therapies can be very effective in improving your body terrain—your internal biochemical environment—to make it less supportive of cancer growth and spread.

Whether you're in treatment or you’ve finished conventional treatment, healing practices, healthy habits, and complementary therapies can be very effective in enhancing your health and building your resilience against a cancer recurrence. We’re currently working on assembling lists of therapies most effective at optimizing your body terrain and reducing your risk of recurrence.

We judged these to be the top practices, habits, and complementary approaches for treating cancer—improving survival, reducing metastases, reducing tumor size or improving your cancer markers. A summary of each therapy's effectiveness, use by experts and safety are below on this page.

Top therapies for treating cancer

Healing practices

Healthy habits

Natural products

Off-label, overlooked or novel cancer approaches (ONCAs)

Therapies using heat, cold, sound, light or cutting-edge radiotherapy

We also list second-tier therapies that either have less evidence in support, less effectiveness or effectiveness with only a few cancer types.

Why these therapies?

We offer these therapies as those with the best evidence for benefit across several cancer types in three categories (see how we rate therapies):

  • Treating cancer
  • Optimizing your body terrain (under development)
  • Reducing risk of cancer or recurrence (under development)

The therapies we list have more evidence regarding solid tumors, as opposed to blood or lymph tumors like leukemia or lymphoma, for these reasons:

  • More research is available regarding use of complementary therapies in the more common cancers such as breast, colorectal, prostate and others—which are generally solid tumors.
  • Lifestyle factors seem to have a greater impact on the solid tumors that tend to take many years to develop.

We are making broad brush strokes here. Considering your own situation—your type of cancer, stage, other treatments, other medical conditions, past experience and more—is vital in determining the likelihood of benefit and risk with any of these therapies. We strongly recommend, if possible, having a trained medical professional guide you in using any of these therapies.

Levels of evidence

New evidence is emerging every day. This is a point-in-time snapshot. Therapies listed here are considered to have "good" or "limited" evidence, and in a few instances “moderate” evidence.

  • Good evidence means that benefit has been found in a clinical setting (not just a laboratory), with enough people involved and enough benefit found to warrant serious consideration for use during treatment. Some therapies are supported by meta-analyses involving thousands of people, while others may rely on a small handful of studies with a few hundred people. But all show a reasonable amount of benefit as described. The evidence is likely not strong enough to recommend use in all patients, as that’s a very high level of evidence. But BCCT considers good evidence an indicator that people with cancer and their healthcare team should carefully investigate the benefits and risks of these therapies in the context of other treatment prospects.
  • Limited evidence means that preclinical evidence from cell and animal studies, if any, indicates good effects, but clinical evidence is scant or not clear-cut. The clinical evidence may be small pilot studies or case reports showing effects consistent with the preclinical evidence, or studies may have found conflicting results.
  • Moderate evidence or reasonably good evidence falls somewhere between these two.

Expert recommendations

We draw from a wide spectrum of oncology sources:

The role of your body terrain

The condition of your body terrain—your internal biochemical environment—may have as much bearing as the type of cancer on whether these therapies will be helpful for you. Whatever your cancer type, managing a terrain imbalance, such as chronic inflammation, using conventional and complementary therapies and lifestyle practices will likely lead to better outcomes. For this reason, we are working on a list of the therapies that optimize your terrain. This painstaking research takes considerable time, but we’ll share our results with you as soon as we can.

In addition to all you and your medical team have done to learn about your tumor, we suggest that you invest equal time and effort into assessing and balancing your terrain. To paraphrase Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee: It’s as important to know about the body that has the cancer as the cancer that’s in the body.

Top therapies for treating cancer

Integrative oncologist and BCCT advisor Donald Abrams, MD, offers this view in a 2018 perspective piece: “The use of complementary therapies is one way that cancer patients can empower themselves during their course of treatment.”1

The therapies we include here have the best evidence for improving survival, reducing metastases, or reducing tumor size or markers across several kinds of cancers. We believe that over time, new evidence will show benefits of these therapies with many additional types of cancer, and many additional therapies will be added to this list. For example, we know that all of the 7 Healing Practices bolster health and resilience and boost your body’s own defenses against cancer. Although Managing Stress doesn’t appear on the top-tier list, all of the programs and protocols of noted integrative oncologists recommend stress management as a healing practice for most of their patients. But to date, not enough studies have been completed across this and some other healing practices to place them on this evidence-driven list.

Therapies can interact synergistically, especially among the 7 Healing Practices. For example, Moving More can interact with your ability to manage stress and sleep well. Sharing Love and Support can improve your ability to manage stress, eat well, sleep well, create a healing environment, and explore what matters now.

Interactions also occur with some of the natural products and off-label drugs we include here. Some may enhance some conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, but interfere with others. Please see our full therapy reviews for in-depth discussions of benefits and cautions.

7 Healing Practices

Eating Well

  • Good evidence of improved survival across all cancer types (when studied as a group) and specifically with breast, colon, and head and neck cancers
  • Limited but promising evidence of improved survival with prostate cancer
  • Recommended by all conventional medical authorities, integrative oncology groups, programs and protocols that we draw from, but not specifically for treating cancer

Moving More

Sharing Love and Support, including support groups

  • Reasonably good evidence of improved survival in breast, colorectal, ovarian and testicular cancers
  • Limited evidence of reduced PSA with social support and other lifestyle modifications (Ornish program) with prostate cancer
  • Limited evidence of increased adherence to adjuvant endocrine therapy in breast cancer
  • Recommended by many leading integrative and naturopathic oncologists and programs

Healthy Habits

Don't smoke

  • Good evidence connects smoking to higher mortality after diagnosis for bladder, colorectal, lung, prostate, and HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers.
  • Limited evidence connects smoking to higher mortality after diagnosis of breast, kidney, and pancreatic cancers and oral squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Recommended by all conventional medical authorities that we draw from, plus Abrams & Weil; Alschuler & Gazella; Block; Cohen & Jefferies; Lemole, Mehta & McKee; and Parmar & Kaczor, but not specifically for treating cancer

Limit alcohol

  • Good evidence links low or no alcohol intake to improved survival.
  • Recommended by the National Cancer Institute, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project, plus Abrams & Weil; Alschuler & Gazella; Block; Cohen & Jefferies; Lemole, Mehta & McKee; and Parmar & Kaczor, but not specifically for treating cancer

Natural products

Astragalus

  • Good evidence of improved survival, tumor response and overall response when used with chemotherapy or radiotherapy and with other natural products in colorectal, esophageal and lung cancers
  • Good evidence of enhanced chemotherapy response in breast, non-small cell lung, and stomach cancers
  • Limited evidence of improved survival, tumor response and overall response when used with chemotherapy or radiotherapy and other natural products in liver cancer
  • Used by Alschuler & Gazella program and by the Block program to enhance chemotherapy effectiveness, especially with platin drugs; used by Parmar & Kaczor; Abrams & Weil mention it enhances effectiveness of fluorouracils and Interleukin 2
  • Used in traditional Chinese medicine

Melatonin

  • Good evidence for improved survival at one year with several types of solid tumors
  • Good evidence for improved complete response, partial response and stable disease when used with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, supportive care and palliative care
  • Good evidence of chemotherapy enhancement with advanced or metastatic solid tumors
  • Limited evidence for improved survival with skin cancer and non-small cell lung cancer
  • Limited evidence for anticancer action: inhibited cancer growth and promoted tumor cell death (apoptosis) in cervical, ovarian, colon, and head and neck cancers
  • Used by Alschuler & Gazella (improve radiation effects), Block (chemotherapy enhancer), McKinney (anticancer action), and Parmar & Kaczor, plus other naturopathic oncologists (but with caution in hematologic malignancies)
  • Caution: should be stopped five to seven days before surgery to avoid magnifying the effects of anesthesia

European mistletoe

Turkey tail mushroom (Trametes versicolor)

  • Good evidence of improved survival in breast and gastrointestinal cancers (stomach, colorectal, esophageal, anal and other)
  • Limited evidence of enhanced host immune response against nasopharynx tumor cells
  • Limited evidence of enhanced chemotherapy and radiotherapy effects on cancer cells while protecting normal cells
  • Used by Alschuler & Gazella (chemotherapy support), Block (chemotherapy and surgery enhancer); mentioned by Abrams & Weil for reducing toxicity of cisplatin and cyclophosphamide and also for enhanced radiotherapy effects
  • Used in traditional Chinese medicine
  • Cautions: Some reports of liver impairment and low white blood cell counts, limited gastrointestinal upset, cough and temporary darkening of the fingernails and stool; enhanced development of large intestinal tumors in mice

Vitamin D supplements

  • Good evidence of improved survival in breast, cervical, prostate and colorectal (but not other gastrointestinal) cancers
  • Used in Alschuler & Gazella, Block, McKinney and Parmar & Kaczor programs
  • Cautions: increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer with either low or high serum levels, increased risk of pancreatic cancer and higher cancer mortality with very high levels and greater risk of advanced pancreatic cancer with low levels; higher levels can lead to calcinosis (the deposit of calcium salts in tissues such as the kidneys, heart or lungs) and hypercalcemia; may be contraindicated with disorders of calcium metabolism, gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease, heart disease or liver disease

Off-label, overlooked or novel cancer approaches (ONCAs)

Many of these approaches involve considerable risk of serious side effects and require careful supervision by a medical professional trained in their use.

Aspirin

Chronomodulation of therapy

Metformin

Propranolol and other beta-blockers

  • Good evidence of improved survival with ovarian (only with nonselective beta blockers) and lung cancers
  • Limited evidence of improved survival with angiosarcoma, breast and pancreatic cancers
  • Good evidence of improved survival for early-stage patients undergoing surgery
  • Good evidence of enhanced chemotherapy effect in breast and pancreatic cancers
  • Good evidence of reduced chemotherapy cardiotoxicity in breast cancer
  • Limited evidence of enhanced effectiveness of radiotherapy
  • Good evidence of reduced metastasis with breast cancer
  • Substantial cautions for side effects, contraindications and interactions with several pharmaceuticals

Statins

  • Good evidence of improved survival in breast, colorectal, kidney, liver, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, skin, stomach, uterine and other gynecologic cancers, plus multiple myeloma and bone/connective tissue sarcoma
  • Limited evidence of improved survival in lymphoma (only Burkitt lymphoma) and prostate cancer (good evidence with advanced prostate cancer)
  • Better evidence of effect with lipophilic statins, particularly simvastatin, compared to hydrophilic statins
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in breast, colorectal and prostate cancers
  • Good evidence of reduced resistance to some chemotherapy treatments in multiple myeloma
  • Limited evidence of enhanced chemotherapy effects in colorectal cancer
  • Good evidence of reduced resistance to bortezomib and bendamustine for multiple myeloma treatment, but not vincristine, adriamycin and dexamethasone (VAD)
  • Good evidence of radiation therapy support with prostate cancer
  • Good evidence of reduced metastasis with melanoma
  • Used in the Block program as a targeted agent
  • Substantial cautions for side effects, contraindications and interactions with several foods and pharmaceuticals, including paclitaxel; supplementation with CoQ-10 or ubiquinol is recommended with use

Therapies using heat, cold, sound, light or cutting-edge radiotherapy

Loco-regional hyperthermia

Second-tier Therapies

Evidence for these therapies to date is either generally more limited or is seen only in a small number of cancer types.

7 Healing Practices

The impacts of these two practices are closely related. Chronic sleep disruption affects stress chemistry and vice versa.

Sleeping Well

  • Good evidence of improved survival and treatment response with metastatic colon cancer

Managing Stress

  • Limited evidence (strong preclinical evidence) that chronic stress is linked to cancer growth and spread
  • Limited evidence that reducing a surgical stress response reduces cancer metastasis
  • Recommended by many leading integrative and naturopathic oncologists and programs

Diets and metabolic therapies

Intermittent fasting

  • Limited evidence of improved sensitivity and response to chemotherapy in breast cancer
  • Used in the Block program

Healthy Habits

Manage your body weight

  • Limited evidence links obesity with poor prognosis for people with colorectal, breast, endometrial, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers
  • Recommended by the National Cancer Institute, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research Continuous Update Project, plus many leading integrative and naturopathic oncologists and programs, but not specifically for treating cancer

Natural products

Curcumin

  • Limited evidence of anticancer activity in cervical, colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers, plus multiple myeloma
  • Limited evidence of enhanced effects of chemotherapy, immunomodulatory drugs or proteasome inhibitors in colorectal and pancreatic cancers, plus leukemia and multiple myeloma
  • Used in the Alschuler & Gazella, Block, and Parmar & Kaczor programs, as well as by many leading integrative and naturopathic oncologists
  • Cautions: should not be used concurrently with some drugs, including some chemotherapy drugs, diabetes medications and other drugs that lower blood sugar, estrogens, and drugs that slow blood clotting; may slightly reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen; some side effects are seen especially with high doses

Flaxseed lignans

  • Good evidence of improved survival in breast cancer
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in breast and prostate cancers
  • Some question about increased progression in prostate cancer with high consumption of flaxseed oil, but not confirmed in a subsequent meta-analysis
  • Used by many leading integrative programs we draw from
  • Cautions regard weight gain, blood thinning and interactions with blood glucose medications

Green tea supplements/EGCG

  • Good evidence of improved survival in ovarian cancer treated with chemotherapy (in combination with I3C)
  • Limited evidence of anticancer activity in head and neck and prostate cancers, plus leukemia
  • Limited evidence of reduced recurrence following colorectal cancer (in combination with other therapies)
  • Used or recommended in the Abrams & Weil review, and the Block and McKinney programs
  • Cautions around interference with some chemotherapy drugs or iron absorption, increased risk of esophageal, pancreatic, prostate, and urinary tract cancers plus leukemia, and liver toxicity with acetaminophen or on an empty stomach

Intravenous (IV) vitamin C

  • Limited evidence of improved survival in ovarian and pancreatic cancers when used with conventional therapy
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in in bladder, kidney, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers and B cell lymphoma
  • Limited evidence of slightly to moderately better response to chemotherapy or radiochemotherapy in brain, lung, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers
  • Used in the Alschuler & Gazella and Block programs
  • Cautions for patients with kidney failure or a history kidney stones, high creatinine or iron storage disease, or for those with anuria, dehydration, severe pulmonary congestion/edema or low cardiac output

Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa)

  • Limited evidence of regression in breast, lung, and liver cancers
  • Limited evidence of improved response to chemotherapy and overcoming chemoresistance in colorectal cancer
  • Used in the Alschuler & Gazella and Block programs
  • Cautions regard liver toxicity and interference with chemotherapy agents that rely on free radicals to kill cancer cells, and adverse reactions and herb-drug interactions

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements

  • Limited evidence of improved survival with colorectal cancer or metastatic/advanced breast cancer
  • Limited evidence of anticancer tumor response in prostate cancer
  • Used widely among the programs and protocols that we reference

Reishi mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum)

  • Limited evidence of enhanced chemotherapy response across cancer types
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action, specifically with breast cancer but across cancer types
  • Used in traditional Chinese medicine, although with concerns for safety during chemotherapy
  • Cautions include liver toxicity in powder form and the potential for interfering with chemotherapy agents that rely on free radicals to kill cancer cells, plus an elevated tumor marker in gastrointestinal cancer in a small study

Resveratrol

  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in colorectal cancer
  • Used in the Alschuler & Gazella, Block and McKinney programs
  • Cautions regard promoted tumor growth and proliferation in luminal B breast cancer subtype models in preclinical studies; should not be used concurrently with a few prescription drugs, including antiplatelet drugs, cytochrome P450 substrates and carbamazepine

Off-label, overlooked or novel cancer approaches (ONCAs)

Cimetidine

  • Limited evidence of improved survival in colorectal, kidney and stomach cancers
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in brain cancer (glioblastoma) (in combination with other therapies) and lung cancer
  • Limited evidence of improved survival and reduced liver and lung metastases in advanced cancer
  • Limited evidence of improved outcomes and survival with colorectal cancer surgery

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs other than aspirin

  • Limited evidence of improved survival in breast, colorectal, ovarian, head & neck, prostate and stomach cancers
  • Good evidence of reduced metastases in non-small cell lung cancer and prostate cancers
  • Limited evidence of anticancer action in breast cancer (reduced tumor size and metastasis, longer time to progression with exemestane)
  • Limited evidence of improved surgical outcomes (with ketorolac and breast cancer surgery)
  • Limited evidence of increased sensitivity to chemo/radiotherapies
  • Used in the Block program to reduce inflammation that impairs chemo/radiotherapy
  • Cautions include significant risks of cardiovascular events including heart attack or stroke; several reviews concluded that risks outweighed benefits for long-term use in preventing cancer, but targeted, limited-term use can provide benefit in treating some cancers

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