Complementary therapies in prostate cancer

This page gives a brief overview of the most common complementary approaches in prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Cancer is an illness that needs careful management by a specialist medical team, and complementary therapies should not be seen as the main treatments for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. in their own right.

Most complementary approaches are used to help relieve symptoms and to ease some of the side-effects of established cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatments. Many are used by people alongside lifestyle changes such as a healthy diet and stressRelating to injury or concern.-management techniques.

Summaries about therapies are placed under five standard headings below to indicate what evidence there is for effectiveness, whether for anticancer uses or against symptoms and side-effects.

  • Positive evidence and likely to help
  • Unclear evidence but MAY help
  • Unclear evidence and NOT likely to help
  • Negative evidence
  • Unclear or lacking evidence and unknown if likely to help.

It is important to be aware that there is a lack of good-quality trials for many of these approaches, although this is improving, so it is not always possible to be clear about how well they work for particular symptoms and side-effects.

Important
Speak to your doctor before you try any of these approaches. Some therapies interfere with conventional treatment - for example, herbs may interact with medication you are taking and can present their own side-effects. Herbs should be supplied by a qualified, registered herbalist.

Positive evidence and likely to help

Acupressure and acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. for relieving side-effects of treatment

Self-administered acupressure can help to reduce nausea following chemotherapy,[1,2] and is easy to learn, using the same points as acupuncture but simply pressing on these instead of stimulating them with needles.

Electroacupuncture involves a practitioner stimulating the acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. points with a low electrical current, and has also been shown to reduce chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer.-induced acuteHas a sudden onset. vomiting.[1,2] These therapies are usually given in combination with anti-nausea medications.[2]

Ginger for relieving side-effects of treatment

Ginger may help reduce chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer.-induced nausea.[3] Fresh root ginger, about one teaspoonful, can be chopped up and added to hot water and sipped throughout the day.

Unclear evidence, but MAY help

Lifestyle changes

A recent study has indicated that people may be able to modify the progression of prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. by making comprehensive lifestyle changes (low-fatOne of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body.,whole-foods, plant-based nutrition; stressRelating to injury or concern.-management techniques; moderate exercise and participation in a psychosocialRelating to psychological and social factors. support group). Larger trials are needed to confirm the results of this initial study.[3a]

Relaxation techniques and hypnotherapyAny form of psychotherapy that uses hypnosis. for relieving fatigue and pain and side-effects of treatment

Relaxation techniques and hypnotherapyAny form of psychotherapy that uses hypnosis. may be beneficial in reducing chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer.-induced nausea and vomiting, but the evidence to support this is mixed.[4]

Fatigue can have a huge impact on the lives of people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., particularly following treatment such as chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer..

Initial studies have shown that people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. who have participated in 'mindfulness-meditation' programmes run in some hospitals in the USA and UK sleep better and have less fatigue.[5] These programmes involve a variety of different meditative practices, including focusing on the breath and developing a state of awareness and inner calm.

Relaxation (relaxation alone or with guided imagery, self-selected music therapy or hypnosisA sleep-like state induced by a hypnotist.) has been shown to reduce pain for people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..[6]

Acupuncture for hot flushes

A recent review of six trials investigating the evidence for acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. for hot flushes reported that all trials suggested beneficial effects in reducing the frequency and intensity of hot flushes. Three of the trials reported a high percentage reduction in the number people experienced. The review stated, however, that the trials were mostly relatively small and fairly poor quality,[7,8] and further studies are under way.[9]

Unclear evidence and NOT likely to help

Gerson therapy used as an anticancer diet

Gerson therapy is an alternative dietary regime that was developed by a German doctor in the 1920s who aimed to use detoxification to reduce burden on cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. patients' livers.[10]

It includes a strict diet, juicing, dietary supplements and coffee enemas and is an arduous therapy to undertake.

Its promoters suggest it can actually treat the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. itself and other chronicA disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. illnesses but there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.[10]

Only small, relatively poor-quality trials have investigated this regime, so it is not possible to draw clear conclusions about any anticancer effectiveness.[10]

A recent study of six people who had used Gerson therapy suggested that people found some benefit, including a degree of pain relief [10] and recommended that the therapy should be investigated further.[11]

Negative evidence

Amygdalin used as an anticancer treatment

Also known as vitamin B17, amygdalin, which is present in apricot kernels, has been purported to be a cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. therapy for a number of years, although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

In the light of some laboratory studies, a recent review suggests that further laboratory investigations might be considered.[12]

Amygdalin contains cyanide, a known poison, so there are some serious safety concerns with this supplement. Life-threatening adverse effectsUndesirable side-effects of medication. (including one death) have been associated with the intake of high quantities of amygdalin.[13]

Di Bella multitherapy used as an anticancer treatment

Di Bella multitherapy combines melatonin, a hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. produced by the brain, with other agents. It was developed in Italy and became popular there for a number of years.[14]

A review of eleven independent trials concludes there is insufficient evidence to warrant any further clinical testing.[14] Several adverse gastrointestinal reactions have been reported in patients using this therapy.[14,15]

Hydrazine sulphate as an anticancer treatment

Hydrazine sulphate is a synthetic chemical that had demonstrated anticancer properties in small animal studies, but trials in humans have not shown it to be an effective anticancer agent. Specifically looking at effects against prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. cells in a test-tube study, it has not been found to be effective there either.[16] There is also some concern that, rather than have anticancer effects, it may cause cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. - that is, concern that it may have carcinogenic properties.[17]

Shark cartilage as an anticancer treatment

Shark cartilage has been shown to have anticancer effects in test-tube studies, but these results have not been replicated in human studies, including people with prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..[18]

A recent trial [19] showed no survival benefit, and the patients taking part, who had incurable breast and colorectal cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., reported reduced quality of life and several gastrointestinal side-effects.

Unclear or lacking evidence and unknown if likely to help

Acupuncture to alleviate cancer pain

Acupuncture is sometimes given with the aim of alleviating pain in people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., although there is conflicting evidence as to its benefit for this purpose.[20,21]

Acupuncture to alleviate fatigue

One small study suggested that acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. can be helpful in alleviating fatigue and improving motivation in people who have undergone chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer..[22] Acupressure to the same points used with acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points. also improved symptoms of fatigue in the study, but less so than by using needles.[22]

Ayurveda used as an anticancer regime

Ayurveda as an Indian traditional medical system of dietary recommendations, herbal remedies, massage and sometimes meditation, yoga and exercise. It originated more than 5,000 years ago.

Because it is such a complex whole system and treatment is provided by trained practitoners on an individualised basis, research into specific benefits is difficult. Certain Ayurvedic herbal remedies are used by people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., including prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.,[23] but there is a lack of good-quality research to assess their effectiveness.[24,25]

Black cohosh plant for cancer-related hot flushes

Black cohosh is a member of the buttercup plant family. Because some trials have shown it to be beneficial for menopausalRelating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. symptoms,[26] it has been suggested it may be useful for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatment-related hot flushes.[27] There is, however, insufficient evidence to be clear about its benefits for this symptom.[27]

Essiac herbal remedy used as an anticancer treatment

Essiac is a herbal combination of burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm and Turkey rhubarb, developed in Canada in the 1920s. It has been widely promoted as a treatment for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., but there is no evidence from good-quality clinical trials to support its use.[28]

European mistletoe extract used as an anticancer treatment

European mistletoe extract (Viscum album) is a semi-parasitic plant that has been used for many centuries for a variety of different ailments. It is commonly used as a treatment for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. by anthroposophical doctors in large parts of Europe.[28] (Anthroposophical medicine is a holistic system of medicine founded by Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s.) A recent review of mistletoe trials  reported that six out of the thirteen studies reviewed showed some marginal evidence for mistletoe having anti-cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. effects. Fourteen out of the sixteen studies also showed benefit in terms of  chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. related side effects and emotional wellbeing . The review concluded, however, that as the majority of the trials were not high quality, larger, randomised trials tudies are needed to be clear about these results.[29]

Greater celandine plant used as an anticancer agent

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is a plant from Albania that has been investigated as a treatment against cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. but as the trials are small and not of very high quality, it is difficult to draw conclusions about any benefits.[30-32]

Homoeopathy used for side-effects of cancer treatment

Homoeopaths aim to treat illness using highly diluted preparations of plant, animal and mineral substances. Preliminary trials have shown homoeopathy to be beneficial against certain side-effects of cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatments - radiotherapy-induced skin inflammationThe body’s response to injury. and chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer.-induced sore mouth[33,34]

Hypnotherapy to alleviate cancer pain

Hypnotherapy has been shown to reduce pain in people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. in several randomised trials,[28] but a recent review says there is insufficient evidence to recommend it for this.[35]

Massage to relieve cancer pain

Massage has been found to reduce cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. pain in the short term, but the evidence is conflicting.[35]

Red clover herb used to treat cancer-related hot flushes

Red clover is a herb that has an oestrogenA hormone involved in female sexual development, produced by the ovaries.-like effect on the body. It is used for menopausalRelating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. symptoms although there is not enough scientific evidence to recommend it for this symptom. The US government's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is, however, running a study to investigate the safety and effectiveness of this use. There has been some concern in theory that red clover should not be used by people with hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect.-related cancers such as prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. since it contains isoflavones (as soya does), which are a type of phyto-oestrogenA hormone involved in female sexual development, produced by the ovaries. .[36]

Reflexology to alleviate cancer pain

There is only a very small amount of evidence to support the use of reflexologyAn integrated approach based on the concept that each body part has a corresponding point on the feet, which is massaged during therapy. to help relieve cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.-related pain.[35]

Sage and soy used to reduce hot flushes

The National Cancer Institute in the USA has started trials in small groups of patients to investigate the use of soy [37] and the herb sage [38] for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.-related hot flushes. Initial trials by the US government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality gave conflicting results.[38a]

Much of the research into these herbs has been with post-menopausalRelating to the menopause, the time of a woman’s life when her ovaries stop releasing an egg (ovum) on a monthly cycle. women or women with breast cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body.. The author of one scientific paper states that the research into these supplements on women provides some insight into their potential effectiveness for men.[39] There has been no research so far though into the effectiveness of sage and soy against hot flushes in men with prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Saw palmetto herb as a prostate cancer treatment

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is a herb used in enlarged prostate conditions, where it gives some improvement in urinary symptoms and flow.[40,41]

The herb is showing some potential as a prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. therapy after initial test-tube and animal trials.[42] There is insufficient information from human trials to recommend it as a prostate cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. therapy.[43] Further trials supported by the National Cancer Institute in the USA are under way.[44]

Traditional Chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is an umbrella term for therapeutic approaches developed in ancient China, including acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points., Chinese herbal medicine, qi gong (meditative movements), tai chi (a form of exercise) and tui-na (a type of Chinese massage similar to Shiatsu).

Individual aspects of TCM, such as acupunctureA complementary therapy in which fine sterile needles are inserted into the skin at specific points., as mentioned above, have been shown to be helpful for reducing the side-effects of certain cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatments. Certain Chinese herbs are also used by people with cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body., but this is not supported by good quality scientific evidence.[45]

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