Complementary and alternative cancer therapies you can live without

Last week we looked at three types of complementary therapy that are worth including in your patient’s and client’s cancer treatment plan, and this week we’re going to look at three complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for which there is little or no scientific evidence to support their use in cancer treatment.

Let’s start with one for which there is literally NO scientific evidence whatsoever.


Carctol is a herbal mixture that was originally designed by Dr Nandlal Tiwari, an Ayurvedic practitioner from India, who has been promoting it as a treatment for a wide range of different conditions. 

More recently, it caught the attention of the media as an “alternative cancer cure”. In fact, there was almost a whole page spread featured in The Telegraph about it! Here’s an opinion piece that breaks down the whole story. 

However, rather worryingly, in an article written in 2009 the author declared his inability to find a single article on Carctol in the medical literature.

That was 2009….

Can you guess what happened next….?

Not a lot to be honest. To this day, there are only four articles mentioning Carctol in PubMed - one of the biggest databases of life sciences and biomedical research. 

And I’ve already referenced two… 

And the other two only mention it in passing (including one reference to it offering “benefits only to its vendors”)....

‘Nuff said really!

Next up, Essiac tea.

This beauty is named after Rene Caisse, a nurse working in Bracebridge, Ontario, who popularised this herbal mixture after obtaining the recipe from a woman who claimed it cured her breast cancer.

For 40 years, Rene Caisse gave Essiac to several hundred cancer patients, but was so incredibly secretive about the formula and reportedly modified it several times on the basis of her experience, that no one is quite sure what the actual formula is or should be!

Add to all this “cloak and dagger” behaviour the limited evidence to support its effectiveness, then it’s unsurprising that the current advice is that whilst it can be used in conjunction with conventional therapies, it shouldn’t be taken as an alternative to chemotherapy. 

There’s even some evidence to suggest that Flor Essence, a component of Essiac, could actually increase the formation of tumours in an animal model of breast cancer. On that basis, even though mice are not men (or women), I’d still choose to give it a miss!

Finally, let’s look at a very popular CAM therapy for which there have been a number of controlled trials conducted, but the results of these trials deem it ineffective beyond the placebo effect: homeopathy.

Now, I know, I know…! There will be many a reader shouting at their screen right now…

“But I’ve used homeopathy for years and I swear by it!!!”

Yeah, I know. But a review published in The Lancet of 110 trials of homeopathy that included a placebo concluded there was “no coherent effect from homeopathy that could not be explained by the placebo effect”.

So if you’re using it and you swear by it, keep using it!! Even if it IS “just” the placebo effect, this is pretty powerful stuff in and of itself! There’s a whole swell of evidence supporting this notion of our minds having incredible power in healing (for a great summary, read Dr David Hamilton’s book, “How your mind can heal your body”).

If you want to learn more, there are a number of great resources out there (Cancer Research UK, the National Cancer Institute and Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies are my firm favourites). 

And if you’d like to learn more about this and a range of other aspects of cancer - about what it is, its causes and preventative measures, the emotional impact it has on those living with it, and how you can use this knowledge to help support your patients and clients through the experience, then I’ll be launching the free online training workshops again very soon where you can find out more about these in detail. Get on the priority list here and be the first to hear about it when they start.

Closing thoughts

Next week, we’ll conclude this mini-series by taking a look at how to know what to trust.

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Essential Cancer Education exists to make a difference in the lives of those living through the cancer experience indirectly by assisting cancer professionals in engaging their patients and clients with lasting, positive lifestyle changes to reduce secondary cancer risk.

I believe that through education and increasing public awareness of the impact of our dietary and lifestyle habits on cancer risk, we ALL have the power to reduce cancer incidence. Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by making positive diet and lifestyle changes. Nearly half! 

I can’t do this alone, and I believe I’m part of something bigger. A movement of sorts. And I would LOVE to have you join me in this movement. 

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