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Cancer and alternative therapies

Good Thinking are extremely concerned about fundraising appeals designed to raise money for seriously ill people to receive alternative therapies that are not considered mainstream and are typically not backed by robust evidence.

Below, we look at many of the therapies we’ve seen cited in such fundraisers (particularly for cancer patients), assess the evidence for the therapy, and examine the potential risks.

If you or someone you know is a cancer patient thinking of trying an alternative therapy, or if you are writing about an alternative cancer therapy, you might find the information below useful.

Thanks to Dr Alice Howarth from for helping to compile this factsheet. Dr Alice has a PhD in cancer research from the University of Liverpool.


  • Description – The use of needles to stimulate ‘meridian points’ and unblock the flow of ‘chi’, which practitioners believe is the cause of disease. Some acupuncturists offer the treatment for chemo side effects, but others go much further, including cure claims.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Some weak evidence it may be effective in controlling nausea; no evidence it can help recovery or can cure cancer.

Alkaline Diet

  • Description – Based on the belief that cancer thrives in an acidic environment, thus trying to change the body’s pH level to be alkaline will make the environment unwelcoming to cancer. Promoted by some alternative medicine practitioners as a direct cure for cancer. Some practitioners actually say that chemotherapy will prevent the diet working.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – No evidence that the body can be dramatically changed in pH level, and no evidence that making the body alkaline would be harmful to the cancer and/or safe for the patient. See Wikipedia.


  • Description – Invented by Stanislaw Burzynksi and promoted by his clinic in Houston, the therapy is based on the idea that peptides isolated from urine can be used to cure cancer. After decades of ‘clinical trials’ – entry to which comes at huge cost to the patient – there has been no meaningful data published. Many patients have had prominent fundraising campaigns and later died. The clinic has also periodically been involved in legal cases, brought both by patients and regulators.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that this therapy is effective, and substantial evidence that patients are being sold false hope, handing over life savings and giving up legitimate treatments. See Wikipedia.


  • Description – Antioxidant supplementation is typically purported as a cancer preventative. In the body antioxidants are produced by cells in order to protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are also produced within the body as a normal part of some biological processes. The body balances antioxidants and free radicals carefully and even uses free radicals to the advantage of the immune system. Some alternative practitioners support the use of antioxidants in preventing or curing cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting antioxidant supplementation in the treatment or prevention of cancer. In fact, recent studies have shown that antioxidants might enhance cancer cell growthunder experimental conditions.

Apricot Kernels / B17 / Laetrile

  • Description – Laetrile, or ‘vitamin B17’, is a synthetic form of amygdalin, which is found in the seeds of many fruits, particularly apricots. Crushed apricot kernels are promoted as a total cure for cancer. Patients either take the kernels crushed as a powder, or as tablets.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – No evidence laetrile, or apricot kernels, are effective to treat cancer. Laetrile and apricot kernels contain cyanide. High doses or sustained use leads to cyanide poisoning. See CRUK’s outline.

Asyra Machine / Bioresonance

  • Description – A machine which measures the galvanic skin response of patients, apparently playing a range of ‘vibrations’ through two paddles held in the hand. The exact same ‘technology’ as a lie detector test, or a Scientology e-meter. Used in health to diagnose illness and to test progress.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – No evidence the machine can diagnose or detect any illness. Very harmful if this is used as the only mechanism for tracking progress of disease and effectiveness of treatments.


  • Description – Indian system of medicine involving herbal treatments, homeopathy, massages and other techniques. Considered by some practitioners as a full alternative to conventional medicine.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – No evidence Ayurveda is an effective treatment or cure for cancer; practitioners tend to denigrate legitimate medicine; remedies are often found to be tainted with heavy metals and other pollutants.


  • Description – Practitioners adhering to this practice suggest that all disease derives from an imbalance in the pH within the body. Biomagnetism is a treatment in which two magnets are used to ‘depolarise’ unbalanced regions within the body. See Livescience summary.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – The pH of the body is tightly regulated by the body. There is no evidence magnets can ‘depolarise’ the body nor that this will help to treat or cure cancer.

Budwig Protocol

  • Description – The Budwig diet is one that was devised in the 1950s and relies on the ingestion of flaxseed oil combined with cottage cheese or milk in addition to high levels of fruit, vegetables and fibre and reduced levels of sugar, meat and fats.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that the Budwig protocol can treat or cure cancer. See CRUK’s outline.

Cannabis Oil / CBD

  • Description – Cannabinoids or cannabis oils are proposed as a cancer treatment. While there is some evidence that cannabinoids might slow tumour growth in the laboratory there is no evidence in patients to support this partly due to the legal difficulties in studying this. Cannabis is known to help support patients in managing side effects of cancer and chemotherapy due to its pain relieving and anti-nausea properties. For a good summary on the evidence see the NCI summary or CRUK summary.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that cannabis oil can cure cancer. There is some evidence that purified cannabinoid chemicals might slow cancer growth but at much higher doses than those found in cannabis oils and this requires much further research. No clinical trials in patients have ever looked at the use of cannabinoids.


  • Description – Chelation therapy is a technique used for removing heavy metals from the body in order to treat heavy metal poisoning. EDTA is injected into the blood stream where it binds heavy metal for clearance from the body. Some alternative practitioners claim that chelation can be used to treat or prevent cancer through the clearance of ‘toxins’.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence chelation therapy can prevent or treat cancer.

Coffee Enemas

  • Description – Coffee enemas are often used as part of Gerson therapy (see below) and are advocated as liver detoxification (also see below) for cancer patients by alternative practitioners.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence coffee enemas can detoxify the liver. There is no evidence liver detoxification or coffee enemas can treat cancer. Coffee enemas present a health risk since they can lead to an imbalance in potassium levels which might lead to heart problems and even death. See CRUK’s outline on Gerson Therapy for details, plus our own summary page.


  • Description – The active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, is proposed to treat cancer. Proponents refer to regions with high dietary intake of turmeric and an identified reduced rate of cancer diagnosis. This ‘treatment’ is usually taken in the form of supplement pills.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no scientific evidence that turmeric supplementation can prevent or cure cancer. See CRUK’s stance. Some turmeric supplements have been found to contain a compound which is damaging to the liver.

Dendritic Cell Therapy

  • Description – Dendritic cell therapy is a form of immunotherapy where vaccines can be used to draw the attention of this immune cell to cancers expressing particular proteins in order to kill the cancer cells. This is a genuine therapy which might be misused by alternative practitioners.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Vaccine based immunotherapies require careful establishment of which specific proteins a patient’s cancer has in order to tailor the vaccine to that cancer. This requires specific testing and the expertise of a medical professional. See NCI’s outline on vaccine based immunotherapies such as dendritic cell therapy.


  • Description – Dowsing is a pseudoscience involving the use of divination rods to search for water. Some alternative practitioners claim divination can be used to find negative energy in a patient’s home, rebalancing of this energy and therefore treat or cure cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that dowsing works. There is no evidence ‘negative energy’ in the home contributes to cancer.

Essiac Tea

  • Description – Essiac tea is a tea made from burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm and Indian rhubarb root sometimes combined with other plants or herbs.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence essiac tea can cure or treat cancer. See CRUK for details.


  • Description – GcMAF is a protein involved in regulation of cells within the immune system. In 2008 there was hype around some research suggesting injection of GcMAF might be used as a cancer cure. This paper was subsequently retracted and the clinical trials assessing the use of GcMAF make use of poor scientific method. Many alternative practitioners still promote this therapy despite the lack of good supporting evidence for its use. See a summaryat CRUK.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – The evidence supporting GcMAF in the use for cancer is unreliable and therefore much further research is required.

Gerson Therapy

  • Description – Gerson Therapy is a therapy established by Max Gerson in the 1900s. The therapy is based on a regime of hourly raw, organic juices in addition to 5 or more daily coffee enemas and heavy supplementation. The protocols for this regime is very stringent and require patients to attend clinics, often in Mexico, for 2-3 weeks.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting Gerson Therapy. There is some risk of ill health as extreme juicing can cause significant gut problems and enemas can cause dizziness, seizures and even death. See summaries by CRUK and our own summary page.


  • Description – Homeopathy is an alternative therapy based on the principle ‘like cures like’. Homeopathic remedies are prepared by diluting active ingredients in water to such extreme levels that it is highly implausible that any homeopathic remedy diluted beyond 12C contains even a single molecule of the active ingredient. Most are diluted beyond this limit.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting the use of homeopathy to treat any health condition including cancer. See the NHS and CRUK summaries.


  • Description – There is evidence that heating regions of tissue associated with tumours can sensitise the cancer cells to other types of treatment such as radiotherapy and enhance the effect of these treatments. Its use as a treatment alone has yet to be fully established.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Whether alternative practitioners are using hyperthermia treatments correctly remains to be seen. Since many are opposed to conventional therapies there is a risk they will use the therapy without the combination of radiotherapy and therefore potentially minimise the value of this treatment.


  • Description – Immunotherapy is an umbrella term used to refer to any therapy which utilises the patient’s own immune system. For this reason, immunotherapy can refer to conventional treatments such as chemotherapeutic agents involving antibodies or treatments which activate immune cells such as T cells or dentritic cells. However, alternative practitioners frequently use this term to refer to many alternative therapies which they claim enhance the immune system despite lacking evidence.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – The tendency for alternative practitioners to use this term when referring to treatments lacking evidence makes it difficult to establish which therapies are genuine and which are not. As with all treatments, it is important for patients to seek the advice of a medical professional


  • Description – Iscador is a subset of treatments based on the injection of mistletoe extracts which are claimed by practitioners to boost the immune system and reduce tumour size.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Mistletoe extract has been extensively studied however those studies have major flaws which mean experts in the field doubt the validity of their findings. This should not be used as a treatment until good quality clinical studies have been undertaken.

Juicing / Raw Veg

  • Description – Raw vegetable juicing is a part of different alternative therapy protocols including Budwig and Gerson (see above). It is based on the idea that some nutrients are a) better derived from raw vegetables and b) able to treat or cure cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting the use of diet to treat or cure cancer. A healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent cancer.

Kangen Water

  • Description – Kangen water is ‘alkaline water’ which has a pH of 8.5-9.5. It is produced by electrolysis of water to which mineral salts have been added Practitioners claim that cancer thrives in an acidic environment and that drinking alkaline water can change the pH of the body and treat cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – The kidneys regulate the blood pH and changing the diet cannot override this. There is no evidence that drinking alkaline water can treat cancer. High intake of alkaline water can pose health risks.

Ketogenic Diet

  • Description – A ketogenic diet is high-fat and low carbohydrate. This forces the body to utilise fat for energy rather than carbohydrate (sugar). This diet is presented as a cure for cancer based on the myth that cancer cells are always more reliant on sugar than other cells and therefore that this diet can ‘starve’ the cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Changing the source of the energy taken in by the diet will not alter the energy available to the cancer cells. All cells require glucose (a type of carbohydrate) for energy and those on a ketogenic diet will produce glucose from reserves. Therefore, cancer cells will not be ‘starved’ by this diet. For a good description on sugar-depleted diets see here.

Liver Detox

  • Description – Many alternative practitioners suggest that toxicity in the body causes cancer or is produced by cancer (or both) and that in order to prevent and treat cancer we must detoxify. Some of these practitioners will focus on using detox protocols which they claim are specific for promoting liver function and some even encourage taking supplements of liver extract. See an example of such claims here.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – While tumours do release factors which might be unhealthy to the body, the human body is well adapted to clearing these factors and detoxifying the body. There is no evidence detoxes of any sort are beneficial to health or are able to treat or prevent cancer.

Magnetic Field Therapy

  • Description – See biomagnetism in this list.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – See biomagnetism in this list.


  • Description – Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain and is involved in regulation of sleep patterns. It’s mechanism of action relies on its interaction with a specific receptor found on some cells – these are only found within the brain. Some people claim melatonin can treat cancer due to its secondary function as an antioxidant.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence melatonin can treat cancer. Melatonin taken orally is cleared from the body by the liver. Evidence for the use of melatonin in combination with chemotherapy remains inconclusive.

Mercury Filling Removal

  • Description – Some proponents of alternative medicine argue that the mercury found in amalgam fillings can cause cancer through “neuro-toxicity” and hindering the immune system. This alleged effect on the immune system might also be claimed to hinder cancer treatment.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting the claim that amalgam fillings increase the risk of cancer or have a detrimental effect on the immune system.


  • Description – Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS) was first developed by Jim Humble. This is a solution of chloride dioxide. This chemical has bleaching properties. MMS proponents recommend a high dose protocol to be followed to ‘treat’ cancer and that MSS solutions can be ingested every 2 hours. They might also recommend MMS enemas, MMS topical application to the skin, MMS inhalation or diluted MMS baths. MMS proponents refer to cancer as fungal and say that MMS has fungicidal properties.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – This product is effectively bleach and therefore poses a health risk. MMS proponents themselves warn of nausea and diarrhoea. There is no evidence that MMS can cure cancer. Cancer is not fungal.

Organic Food

  • Description – Some alternative practitioners suggest that organic food has more available nutrients than regular produce. There is no evidence to support this. Organic food is proposed as either prevention or cure due to either the reduction of pesticides or the increase in nutrients, respectively.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – While there is some evidence supporting the association between diet and cancer riskthere is no evidence supporting the use of diet to treat or cure cancer. There is no evidence organic produce is any better in terms of cancer risk minimisation than any other produce. See findings from Oxford University One Million Women study.

Oxygen Therapy / Hyperbaric Chamber

  • Description – Practitioners believe that increasing the air pressure of oxygen surrounding a patient’s body using a hyperbaric oxygen therapy can increase the oxygen supply to the tissue. They claim that the hypoxia found in tumours means that cancer cells have an aversion to oxygen and therefore increasing oxygen supply to the tumour can act against those cancer cells.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Tumours are typically only short of oxygen due to the rapid growth of the cancer cells and a key feature of cancer is the generation of new blood vessels in order to bring nutrients and oxygen into the tissue. Some cancer cells can generate energy anaerobically, however plenty of cancer cells still require oxygen. Even if the principle held water there is no evidence supporting the use of oxygen therapy in treating cancer. It might have value in treating side effects of other cancer treatments such as radiotherapy (CRUK).

Ozone therapy

  • Description – Ozone therapy is based on the principle above (see hyperbaric oxygen) in which practitioners claim increasing the supply of oxygen to the body can treat cancer. In this case the extra oxygen is supplied through ozone (O3).
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting this therapy. High levels of inhaled ozone are known to be toxic. See Wikipedia.

Pancreatic Enzymes

  • Description – Pancreatic enzymes are prescribed by medical professionals to patients who have pancreatic cancer which has led to the damage of their pancreas. Pancreatic enzymes are required for the digestion of food and are therefore required for management of symptoms. This is called Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT). Some alternative practitioners claim that very high doses of pancreatic enzymes can treat cancer by killing cancer cells.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that high doses of pancreatic enzymes can treat or cure cancer. In fact, excess pancreatic enzymes not required for the digestion of food travel through the gut and are excreted by the body and do not reach tumour sites.  See details at

PDL1 Vaccine

  • Description – This is based on a promising new therapy in which patients with cancer expressing a protein called PD1 are treated with a PDL1 vaccine. PDL1 binds to PD1, targeting the cancerous cells for destruction by the immune system. See detailed explanation from CRUK.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – This treatment only works for patients with PD1 positive cancer and as such requires specific testing before use. It is not clear whether alternative practitioners are conveying the need for this testing or undertaking this testing with patients.


  • Description – A conventional therapy used to treat T-cell lymphoma. The patient’s blood is treated with a photosensitizing agent and exposed to UV light in order to damage the T-cells. The damaged T-cells are returned to body where they are able to kill other T-cells including cancerous T-cells. This treatment only works for T-cell lymphoma.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – The therapy needs to be administered by medical professionals who understand the limitations of the treatment and can tailor those treatments to the patient specifically.


  • Description – Phytonutrients are nutrients derived from plants. As such there are different claims associated with different nutrients. Some have more supporting evidence than others. For example, sulforaphone found in broccoli mighthave value in preventing cancer – see Institute of Food Research summary of the evidence on CRUK. Also see on this list – vitamin C, turmeric/curcumin.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – While there is some evidence supporting the association between diet and cancer riskthere is no evidence supporting the use of diet to treat or cure cancer. Those nutrients which may slow cancer growth (in the lab) have minimal, early stage evidence under very specific circumstances and doses which cannot be replicated by supplementation or diet.

Proton Beam Therapy

  • Description – A new type of radiotherapy that is effective for some patients, though given how new the technique is, there’s no guarantee all of the clinics who offer it are using are using it effectively. The technique is not available in UK and the NHS currently refers some patients abroad.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Some overseas clinics heavily market their services to desperate parents and patients. It is not clear whether all patients treated privately abroad are being treated appropriately. See the NHS view.

Psychic Surgery

  • Description – Psychic surgery is a claimed form of surgery in which practitioners do not break the skin and use mainly tactile manipulation of the patient sometimes combined with a level of theatre involving fake blood.  Some practitioners claim to be able to use channelling spirits to shrink tumours.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting psychic surgery.


  • Description – Reiki is a hands-on alternative medicine which originated in Japan. It is based on the principle of ‘universal energy’ or xi (chi).
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence supporting the use of reiki to cure or prevent cancer. There is some weak evidence supporting the use of reiki to support patient mood, pain reduction and improved quality of life. However, its use could deprive patients of more effective therapies. See NCBI report and CRUK comments.

Reishi Mushroom Extract

  • Description – Extracts from reishi mushrooms (ganoderma mushrooms) are purported to cure cancer by enhancing the immune system and causing death of cancer cells. These are advertised as traditional Chinese or Asian medicine.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that reishi mushroom extract can cure cancer. There is some weak evidence that it might support the immune system. See CRUK details.


  • Description – Removab (compound name catumaxomab) is a genuine therapy used in a very specific subset of cancer patients. In patients whose cancer is a) positive for a protein called EpCAM and b) producing malignant ascites (a fluid build-up in the peritoneal cavity) then Removab is used when all other treatments have been exhausted. Any other use of this therapy is not supported.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – This therapy is specific for EpCAM positive cancer. It specifically binds to the EpCAM protein. Therefore, it cannot work in any patient whose cancer is not EpCAM positive. Due to its very specific action this treatment requires careful assessment of the patient’s particular cancer type and should be administered by a medical professional.

Rick Simpson Oils

  • Description – Rick Simpson claims to produce concentrated cannabis oil for the purpose of treating cancer. Rick Simpson provides information for patients to produce the oil themselves and does not sell or license the product.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that cannabis oil can cure cancer. There is some evidence that purified cannabinoid chemicals might slow cancer growth but this is at much higher concentrations than might be found in oils. See Cannabis Oils on this list.

Scalar Technology

  • Description – A treatment based on a type of electromagnetic energy (scalar wave) which does not exist. Write up of one such claim can be found at Retraction Watch. Proponents claim the treatment works through magnetic resonance of cancer cells being disrupted by Scalar waves and enhancement of the immune system.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence scalar waves exist. There is no evidence cancer cells have a unique magnetic resonance. There is no evidence energy wave disruption can cure cancer. There is no evidence energy waves can enhance the immune system.

Soursop Tea

  • Description – Soursop or graviola is derived from the bark of a tree Annona muricata and is consumed in the diet in regions where the tree grows. Some proponents of alternative medicine recommend boiling leaves from the tree to make a tea to be consumed for the purpose of preventing or curing cancer.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that graviola will prevent or cure cancer. There is some concern that consumed in high doses the chemicals present in graviola can cause nerve changes leading to Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms. See CRUK information page.

TACE Therapy

  • Description – A conventional therapy used to slow growth and prevent spreading of some forms of liver cancer. It cannot cure cancer. The therapy combines blockage of the blood supply to a liver tumour combined with the delivery of chemotherapy through the hepatic artery. This therapy relies on the presence of two blood supplies into the liver – the portal and hepatic arteries. Liver tumours are typically reliant on blood supply from the hepatic artery whereas healthy cells are supported by the portal artery. Therefore, blocking the hepatic artery can starve tumours of nutrients and this artery can be used for direct delivery of chemotherapeutic agents. See American Cancer Society and NHS for details.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – TACE should not be given to patients with liver damage. It cannot cure liver cancer, only slow growth and reduce spread. Its benefits are often overstated by alternative therapy proponents.

Thermal Imaging

  • Description – The use of infrared imaging to detect regions of increased body temperature or blood flow near to or on the surface of the skin. Usually proposed as an alternative to mammograms. Often referred to as thermography.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no evidence that thermography can detect breast or any other cancer types. See FDA and NICE reports.


  • Description – The active ingredient of turmeric, curcumin, is proposed to treat cancer. Proponents refer to regions with high dietary intake of turmeric and an identified reduced rate of cancer diagnosis. This ‘treatment’ is usually taken in the form of supplement pills.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is no scientific evidence that turmeric supplementation can prevent or cure cancer. See CRUK’s stance. Some turmeric supplements have been found to contain a compound which is damaging to the liver.

Urine Therapy

  • Description – Some patients believe drinking their own urine provides certain nutrients which are able to kill or inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – Urine is a waste product of the body created by careful filtering by the kidneys. It retains the nutrients it needs. Unless there is a pathological problem with the kidneys there should be little of value to the patient within the urine. There is no evidence supporting urine therapy.

Vitamin C

  • Description – Intravenous or oral administration of extremely high doses of vitamin C usually beyond 2000mg. The RDA is 90mg. Chemist and Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling first proposed vitamin C mega-dosing in the 1970s.
  • Effectiveness / Danger – There is limited weak evidence that intravenous vitamin C might have some positive effect when used in combination with some chemotherapies however other studies have shown that it interferes with the function of chemotherapies. Scientific evidence does not support efficacy when used alone. See NCI summary.