What is integrative lung cancer treatment?

Integrative complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies can be used to treat the symptoms of lung cancer and the side effects of lung cancer treatment. But these therapies are not meant to be stand-alone cures. People can use them to help feel better during and after conventional cancer treatments.

There is not much supportive research, and opinions are mixed about the effectiveness of CAM therapies. However, many people have had success in using CAM therapies in the management of lung cancer.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, there is some scientific evidence that supports the safety and effectiveness of some alternative treatments. But there are also many unanswered questions.

Answers about how the treatments work, whether they are safe, and if the claims about them are true, are often unavailable or unreliable.

Check with your doctor before trying any alternative treatments to make sure the options you choose are right for you.


Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine. It’s based on the stimulation of specific points on the body with very thin needles. This treatment is meant to restore the natural flow of energy in the body. Disharmony of the energy is thought to be the root cause of disease.

Nearly all people with lung cancer face symptoms related to their disease or treatment. Some common symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • pain
  • depression
  • poor well-being

Acupuncture can be effective in managing the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. It can also help manage pain after surgery.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils to stimulate the part of the brain that affects emotion. The National Cancer Institute reports that research shows essential oils have disease fighting capabilities.

Essential oils also have calming or energizing qualities. Studies have shown that essential oils can promote mental and emotional wellness by reducing the following symptoms:

  • stress
  • depression
  • pain
  • nausea

Essential oils commonly used include:

  • lavender, which promotes calmness
  • frankincense, which is meditative
  • jasmine, which is uplifting
  • peppermint, which fights nausea
  • rosemary, which relieves pain and congestion

One study showed that thyme essential oil is capable of killing some cancer cells, including lung cancer cells, in the laboratory.

Add a few drops of essential oil to jojoba oil and apply to pressure points like wrists, the neck, and behind the ears. You can also add a drop to your favorite face wash or 4 to 5 drops to a relaxing bath.

Herbal supplements

In China, more than 133 herbal supplements have been historically used to treat lung cancer. These supplements are used alongside conventional treatments like chemotherapy.

It’s believed certain supplements help ease symptoms of lung cancer and the side effects of treatment. And that it can even kill cancer cells.

The most commonly used herbal supplements include:

  • astragalus: helps boost the immune system, slows tumor growth, prevents tumors from spreading, and may enhance the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs
  • nan sha shen (American silvertop root): acts as an antibiotic usually used to treat dry coughing that works by reducing inflammation, tissue permeability, and cancer-promoting chemicals in the body
  • gan cao (licorice root): known as an expectorant that accelerates mucous secretion, usually prescribed to relieve cough and shortness of breath
  • poria (fu ling): works as a diuretic in patients experiencing edema (fluid retention beneath the skin), reduces phlegm, and improves sleep in insomnia patients
  • oldenlandia diffusa (snake-needle grass): believed to kill lung cancer cells
  • asparagus root: believed to kill and prevent lung cancer cells from growing

Usually it’s not harmful to take herbal supplements along with your regular treatments for lung cancer.

But in some cases, herbs can cause serious side effects or complications. It’s always important to check with your doctor before taking any herbal preparations or supplements.


Massage can ease pain and promote relaxation. Massage therapists use their hands or feet to apply pressure to relax tight muscles and help relieve pain and tension. People with lung cancer will usually feel pain in the nerves or muscles around the following areas:

  • chest
  • neck
  • upper back
  • shoulders

When looking for a massage therapist, seek one with experience treating people with cancer. They will know the correct massage techniques to use depending on your cancer stage and treatment status.


Therapists use hypnosis to put you in state of heightened focus and concentration. According to the Wellness Institute, hypnosis can help ease anxiety, nausea, and pain associated with cancer. It can also help people with lung cancer quit smoking.

Medical marijuana

Marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The active chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, prompt the body to produce other chemicals that can boost the body’s central nervous system and immune system.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana use for medicinal purposes. But it’s still illegal to possess in the United States under federal law.

Several studies show medical marijuana does not increase the risk of lung or other cancers. There is evidence that cannabinoids are effective for treating nausea and vomiting. The active chemicals also boost the appetite in people with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy.

There are two cannabinoids that are approved by the FDA for prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Other laboratory studies show that marijuana is effective in killing cancer cells. But medical marijuana is not an FDA approved cancer treatment.


Meditation is a state of silent inner reflection that helps to quiet the mind from outside “chatter.”

It can be helpful in reducing stress and tension associated with managing lung cancer. Meditative deep breathing techniques may also help lung cancer patients boost their lung function.


There is no set diet plan for someone with lung cancer. A person’s nutritional needs may change throughout their treatment. Yet some foods can affect a person’s lung cancer symptoms.

It’s important for people with lung cancer to maintain a healthy weight and get the energy and nutrients they need to go through treatment.

Some nutrition tips for people with lung cancer include:

  • avoiding low-calorie or non-nutritious foods and drinks like sodas and chips
  • eating whenever you feel hungry
  • supplementing your diet with high-calorie drinks if needed
  • using herbs and spices when cooking to make food more appealing
  • consuming liquid or pureed meals if you’re having trouble eating solid foods
  • eating several small meals throughout the day instead of a few large meals
  • drinking mint and ginger teas to reduce nausea
  • avoiding dietary supplements unless you talk to your doctor first
  • eating sitting up and not lying down after eating
  • eating bland foods if your stomach or mouth are sore
  • eating high-fiber foods to ease constipation


Yoga is a series of body poses that combines breathing with stretching as a form of moving meditation. Yoga has shown to help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It can also promote a sense of well-being. And it can help people with lung cancer relax and sleep better. Inverted yoga poses help blood flow from the legs and pelvis back to the heart, and then through the lungs where it becomes freshly oxygenated.

CAM treatments and therapies are often the subject of ongoing clinical trials. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health sponsor some of these trials.

These trials research how integrative treatments compare to conventional treatments, and how they might supplement standard treatment.

The National Cancer Institute emphasizes that you should not consider a particular alternative treatment safe or effective until it has undergone research and clinical trials similar to those done for conventional cancer treatments.

Even when a treatment is supported by research, it still might interfere with your current treatment or have unwanted effects.

For these reasons, you should always consult your doctor before starting an integrative treatment. It’s also useful to ask if they know of studies supporting the outcome you want, and whether they can refer you to a practitioner.