Holistic Treatment for Breast Cancer

While many patients choose to use conventional methods of breast cancer treatment, others choose alternative methods. There are several holistic treatment methods and for some, these replace conventional medications in an effort to bring about the desired effects.

What are “Complementary” or “Holistic” Treatments ?

Holistic treatments may be considered alternative or complementary which means that it addresses all aspects of an individual – spiritual, cultural, physical and intellectual.

Holistic Treatments: Basic Types

There are different types of complementary or holistic treatments. The major approaches are:

  • Herbal and nutritional supplements
  • Exercise – Tai Chi, Yoga
  • Meditation/spiritual – Yoga

Each type of treatment aims to address different aspects of the human body. For cancer patients, they may reduce pain or decrease nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. Some also claim to be able to prevent the spread of, stop the growth of or even eliminate cancer. It is important to discuss your thoughts on alternative methods with your doctor, especially if you plan to combine conventional and alternative means.


Some cultures have developed a structure of holistic medicine where herbs play a vital role.[1] The most common are:

  • Chinese medicine – traditional Chinese holistic practices using a variety of treatments
  • Kampo – traditional Japanese herbal medical system using variety of treatments
  • Bach Flower Remedies – developed by Englishman to address emotional states
  • Hoxsey Herbal Treatment – mixture of supplements and herbs that have been banned in the USA, but are allowed in Mexico
  • Homeopathy – promotes healing by using natural diluted substances
  • Ayurvedic Medicine – holistic approach in India using roots and a variety of treatments
  • Native American Healing – holistic approach in American Indian healing practices
  • Curanderism – Latin American healing practices using variety of treatments

Some individuals turn to these herbal treatments in attempt to “cure” their cancer and others do it to relieve specific side effects of the cancer or treatments. When using them in addition to conventional treatments, patients are encouraged to speak with their doctors prior to use.

Some treatments considered complementary or holistic include the following:

  • Acupuncture – used to reduce nausea, vomiting and pain
  • Massage – to decrease stress levels, anxiety, depression, pain and fatigue
  • Meditation – relaxing helps reduce chronic pain and problems sleeping
  • Qigong – manage pain and reduce anxiety, pain and stress
  • Reflexology – promotes relaxation and helps decrease pain
  • Reiki – helps reduce stress and anxiety while increasing a sense of well-being
  • Shiatsu –stress reduction and decreases nausea and vomiting
  • Visualization (Imagery) – considered for pain relief
  • Yoga – helps decrease blood pressure and heart rate, can affect metabolism by reducing stress

Many of these types of treatments claim to cure cancer or at least have a significant role in the treatment. However, scientific evidence does not support these claims. While many of them do help reduce side effects associated with treatment of breast cancer, few actually influence the cancer itself. [2] Research is currently being done concerning herbs and supplements to see how they complement conventional treatments.[3]

Herbs, Plants, Supplements and Breast Cancer

Herb Description Part used Action Scientific Evidence
Astragalus Herb Root Enhances immune system Some laboratory evidence
Berries Various types Fruit inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) pathways Yes – ellagic acid
Black Cohash Herb Root Hot flashes Some can complement anti-estrogen (Hormonal) therapy
Cat’s Claw Woody vine Root, bark Boosts the immune system Limited research – performed on animals alone
Chaparral Creosote bush Leaves Anti-cancer agent, antioxidant
Chlorella Freshwater algae Entire plant Enhance the immune system Limited support
Echinacea Flowering plant Leaves, root, entire plant Enhance the immune system Some research supports anti cancer activity
Eleuthero Shrub Dried root Boosts energy, enhances immune system Some valid support
Flax Seed Annual plant Seed Boost immune system Contains anti-cancer lignanSome support for breast cancer
Garlic Bulb Cloves Protects against the risk of colon, stomach and breast cancer Reviews are mixed. Research does support in some instances
Ginger Plant Root Controls nausea following chemotherapy Research does support[4]
Ginseng, Siberian Plant Root Fatigue No
Gotukola Small, herbaceous plant Dried leaves, stem slows tumor growth and prevents ulcers Promising results
Green Tea Ground herbaceous plant (or plants) Leaves Contains polyphenols which act against cancer cellsReduces hot flashes associated with SERMS and AIs Mixed results cancer specifically in increasing anti-cancer actions with targeted therapies such as trastuzumabCan counteract this side effect for hormonal therapy[5]
Larch Tree Dark resin Enhances immune system May stimulate the immune system.
Milk Thistle Flowering thistle plant Seeds, heads Believed to be suitable in reducing the risk for breast, skin and prostate cancer Does provide some protection against prostate and skin cancers but not breast cancer
Peppermint Herb Leaves, flowering tops Helps relieve nausea Anecdotal, no research support
Pine Bark Extract Evergreen tree Bark Reduce cancer risk Some antioxidant qualities
Pokeweed Perennial herb Berries, dried root Enhances the immune system Enhances immune system and has some antiviral and anticancer effects
Red Clover Legume Flowers reduces the risk of breast, ovarian, lymphatic and prostate cancers No scientific evidence
Turmeric Spice Root, root stock Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant inhibits the growth of tumors


There are many treatment options for treating breast cancer. You may opt to use conventional treatments such as chemotherapy, hormonal therapy and immune therapy. Alternatively, you may choose to combine conventional treatments with complementary or holistic treatments. Whichever you choose, make sure you discuss your decisions with your doctor.


1 Shane-McWhorter, L (2009). Guide To Herbs and Nutritional Supplements. Alexandria, VA: ADA.

2 Block, K (2009). Life Over Cancer. New York: Bantam Books.

3 American Cancer Society (2009). Complete Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Therapies. Atlanta: American Cancer Society.

4 National Cancer Institute (2009). “Ginger Helps Reduce Nausea from Chemotherapy.”  Retrieved from www.cancer.gov/ncicancerbulletin/051909/page3

5 Alschuler, L. N. and Gazella, K. A. (2010). The Definitive Guide to Cancer. An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment and Healing 3rd edition. Berkley: Celestial Arts.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.