Homeopathy for Cancer

An Unproven Treatment Alternative

Homeopathic medicine and herbs
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Homeopathic medicine (or homeopathy) is a type of alternative medicine based on a belief that an illness can be cured by ingesting a substance that generates symptoms typical of that very illness—a philosophy of "like cures like." Substances used to provoke symptoms (and thus, in theory, a cure) include plants, herbs, minerals, and animal products.

Although homeopathy has been touted as one of many complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments for cancer, there's scant evidence it's effective. That being said, homeopathic treatments may provide some relief from the unpleasant side effects of conventional cancer treatments, although not even this has been unequivocally proven.

Complementary medicine (CM) is used by one third to one half of cancer patients throughout the world. One European study found that 27% of 132 cancer patients used homeopathy.

Homeopathic Remedies for Cancer

Homeopathic remedies are organic substances that have been so highly diluted that there are very few molecules of the original substance remaining. The more diluted a substance, the more powerful it is believed to be in boosting self-healing.

For cancer, homeopathic practitioners aim to stimulate immunity, lessen pain, and improve energy and overall well-being, especially if a person is grappling with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation such as nausea, hot flashes, infections, and sores. 

Homeopathic products come as sugar pellets to be placed under the tongue or as drops, tablets, gels, creams, and ointments. Treatments are tailored to individuals and so it’s common for two people with the same condition to receive different treatments.

Symptom Management

Homeopathy may hold an allure for people hoping to avoid the side effects of conventional cancer treatment, but there has been no reliable research to show the practice to be effective.

A bit more promise lies in the usefulness of homeopathic remedies to ease side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, although evidence supporting this use also is mixed.

In a research review published in 2009, scientists sized up eight studies using homeopathic remedies in the treatment of cancer treatment-related side effects. One suggested that Traumeel S (a mouth rinse containing several homeopathic medicines) may alleviate mouth sores caused by chemotherapy. However, the review's authors also found that homeopathic remedies had no benefit over placebo in several of the other studies.

In 2011, an observational study found that homeopathic treatments did improve the quality of life for some cancer patients. There also has been research to suggest mistletoe, a semiparasitic evergreen shrub used in some homeopathic preparations, may help some cancer patients better tolerate chemotherapy.

At the same time, another study showed no improvement in nausea symptoms experienced by women undergoing chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer.

Risks and Considerations

There are no homeopathic drug products approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning they have not been evaluated for safety or effectiveness. For this reason, it's critical to consult your oncologist if you're considering using homeopathy for cancer-related complications.

Some homeopathic remedies may do more harm than good by interacting with certain cancer medications, interfering with the effectiveness of conventional treatments, or compounding or increasing side effects. These include preparations containing grapefruit, St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), or turmeric (Curcuma longa).

There is also the risk that homeopathic treatment of cancer could muddy your oncologist's understanding of why you may be experiencing certain symptoms. And if you use homeopathy alone, you obviously forgo having a trained oncologist's oversight of your cancer, almost certainly allowing it to progress.

A study of cancer patients using alternative medicine in lieu of conventional cancer treatments found that after a median of 5 years, patients with breast or colorectal cancer were nearly five times as likely to die if they had used an alternative therapy as their initial treatment than if they had received conventional treatment.

If you do want to include homeopathy or another type of CAM in your cancer treatment protocol, your oncologist should work in partnership with any alternative care doctor you see. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health offers these precautions:

  • Don't substitute homeopathy for proven conventional care.
  • Don't postpone seeing a doctor while waiting to see if alternative cancer treatments work.
  • Bring homeopathic products you are using to a doctor's visit. Your healthcare provider can tell you whether they pose a risk of side effects or drug interactions.
  • if you are pregnant or nursing, consult a physician before using any homeopathic product.
  • Realize the use of medicinal plants in oncology is nothing to take lightly. Some herbs can be dangerous, even causing liver damage.

A Word From Verywell

There is no substitute for modern cancer treatment based on rigorous human studies, but there may be room in your treatment plan for less-than-conventional complementary medicine—as long as it is guaranteed to do no harm. Even if a practice such as homeopathy hasn't been proven, as long as it doesn't interfere with your getting the most effective treatment possible and as long as your medical team is on board—which means being 100% open and honest about any treatment you're interested in trying before you do so, at the very least you may benefit from the psychological uplift that comes with feeling you're able to have some control in recovering your health.

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