Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Colon Cancer

Complementary and alternative medicine for colon cancer, also called CAM, involves non-traditional approaches to medicine that help manage a patient’s care.

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This field of medicine includes complementary medicine, integrative medicine and alternative medicine. Approximately one-third of all cancer patients participate in CAM or integrative medicine.

Are you Considering Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Colon Cancer?

It’s important to remember that no alternative method has been proven safe or effective by conclusive scientific evidence to treat colon or rectal cancer. Complementary and alternative medicine for colon cancer has not been proven to cure cancer. 

But, some types of approaches could improve your quality of life and help manage some side effects of cancer treatment.

If you are considering complementary or integrative approaches to help you feel better, talk to your doctor first, as some approaches may interfere with the benefits of chemotherapy or other treatments, and other approaches may be harmful to patients undergoing standard treatment for cancer.

CAM Terms to Know

Conventional Medicine

An approach where doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, and other professionals treat a disease using medication, radiation, surgery, and/or other treatments. Also called “Western Medicine” or “Mainstream Medicine.”

Complementary Medicine

Used together with conventional medicine. It doesn’t replace traditional, science-based treatments, but it’s used alongside them. Many complementary medicine strategies are safe for patients and provide relief and comfort. For example, using aromatherapy to decrease patient discomfort after surgery.

Integrative Medicine

Combines treatments from conventional medicine and complementary medicine for which there is some high-quality scientific evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Alternative Medicine

Used in place of conventional medicine. For example, using a special diet to treat cancer instead of undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy that has been recommended by a conventional doctor. No alternative method has been proven safe or effective by conclusive scientific evidence to treat colon or rectal cancer.

Approaches to Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Colon Cancer

These methods can be safely used and may improve side effects, which can increase quality of life tremendously. Remember that all people are different and respond to treatments differently. Before seeking these approaches, talk to your doctor to make sure that it’s safe for you!


The process of applying thin needles to certain points on the skin to stimulate acupuncture points. Acupuncturists determine the correct acupuncture points for the problem being treated.

This may reduce pain, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, weight loss, anxiety, depression, insomnia, dry mouth, hot flashes, nerve problems, constipation, and diarrhea. 


Involves stimulating acupuncture points on the body using firm finger pressure. Acupressure may reduce pain, anxiety, nausea and vomiting.


The use of essential oils. Smell receptors respond to essential oils by sending chemical messages to the brain, which can affect moods and emotions, leading to reduced stress, and anxiety.

Medical Marijuana/Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil

The use of the cannabis plant to ease cancer-related side effects to reduce pain and nausea, and increase appetite.

Foot Reflexology

Involves applying pressure to specific areas on the feet said to correspond to different body parts in order to reduce pain, stress, and anxiety.


A technique that redirects and relaxes the mind by focusing on an image or idea that is peaceful, safe, and secure. Imagery can reduce feelings of depression, help lower blood pressure, and heart rate.


There are many types of massage. Generally, it is described as rubbing/kneading of muscles and joints and is practiced to relieve tension or pain. For cancer patients, massage uses a more gentle approach and has many benefits such as improved sleep and immune function, reduced anxiety, pain, fatigue, and nausea.


The practice of bringing awareness to the present moment by focusing on the breath, bodily sensations or repetition of a word or phrase. Meditation can reduce anxiety, depression and stress and improve your quality of life.


A practice that encourages the “flow” of a person’s own positive energy. During a session, the practitioner gently touches or places hands above the patient’s body. This may help reduce pain, stress, and anxiety.

Tai Chi

An ancient martial art or “moving meditation” where participants focus on deep breathing and precise posture, performing slow, graceful movements. Tai Chi is recommended to patients to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve their quality of life.


A practice combining physical postures, meditation and breathing techniques. Yoga for those in cancer treatment tends to be low impact and gentle. Yoga can improve sleep, mood and circulation, reduce stress, and physically strengthen the body.

Other Types of CAM Approaches

  • Herbal medicine: use of plants to treat illness and promote health
  • Ayurveda: traditional system of medicine of India that emphasizes diet, herbs, exercise, meditation, breathing, and physical therapy
  • Biofeedback: a technique used to control your body’s functions, such as bowel function
  • Chiropractic: focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems, including pain. The most common procedure is “spinal manipulation” or “adjustment”

Complementary Health Approaches to Avoid

There are certain approaches to complementary and alternative medicine for colon cancer that have been shown to be ineffective and even dangerous for colon and rectal cancer patients. Some of these methods include:

  • Colonic hydrotherapy
  • Chelation therapy
  • Ionic foot baths
  • Restrictive diets
  • Some supplements (talk to your doctor)
  • Expensive treatments with little to no benefit
  • Anything used IN PLACE OF a curative conventional treatment 

How to Find a CAM Practitioner

Start by asking your doctor, social worker, or member of your care team. Some hospitals have practitioners that work within their system. You can also ask friends and family, or search online.

Before scheduling an appointment, you want to ensure the practitioner:

  • Is licensed by your state. This ensures they have gone through comprehensive training.
  • Has worked with cancer patients. Consider asking them how they will modify their treatment for you.

You and your practitioner should have a detailed discussion about your diagnosis, current treatment, etc.

More Information on CAM 

For more information about integrative and complementary medicine, and for tips on how to find a practitioner, download the Integrative Medicine Fact Sheet, or watch the Fad or Fact webinar on complementary medicine.