Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

In addition to mainstream medical treatment for lung cancer, many people embrace additional healing techniques and practices that are non-traditional. It is important that patients tell their doctors about any complementary practices they may take part in to ensure that nothing interferes negatively with their treatment, however, many of these approaches can be used along with traditional therapies, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.

What is the mind-body connection?

The mind-body connection recognizes that emotional, mental, and behavioral factors can directly affect our health, and mind-body techniques can improve quality of life and may help reduce symptoms of disease. The mind-body connection does not imply that the mind is the cause of cancer, and studies that have looked at a connection between stress and cancer have not found one. However, researchers have found that mind-body techniques such as mindfulness and meditation can have benefits, such as reducing stress and improving mood in cancer patients.1-3

Complementary medicine versus alternative medicine

While the terms “complementary medicine” and “alternative medicine” are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually refer to different concepts. Complementary medicine is the use of a non-mainstream approach in combination with traditional treatment. Alternative medicine is using non-mainstream approaches instead of traditional treatment.4

Many doctors and hospitals take an integrated approach to health care, bringing together traditional and complementary medicine to treat patients with lung cancer. Integrated programs may offer services such as massage, acupuncture, and meditation to help cancer patients manage their symptoms and cope with side effects from treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, or radiation therapy.4

Complementary medicine approaches

There are many complementary approaches that people with lung cancer use to support their health, including:


Yoga is a mind and body practice that originated in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga, usually combining physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation.4

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is a broad term that covers several different hands-on techniques in which a therapist manipulates the muscles and soft tissues of the body.4


Acupuncture involves the use of thin, metallic needles placed in particular areas of the body. Acupuncture is one of the key components in traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced in Asian countries for thousands of years.4


Hypnosis is a type of therapy in which the patient gives consent to enter into an altered state of consciousness in which the therapist can make suggestions to alter perceptions, thoughts, or actions in order to help the patient. It may be used by patients with lung cancer to cope with side effects of treatments, reduce emotional stress, and reduce the severity of symptoms from lung cancer.5

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are a type of relaxation technique that can reduce anxiety and stress. Breathing exercises involve taking slow, deep, and even breaths to relax and calm the mind.6

Dietary supplements

Many people with lung cancer experience loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss, which can lead to malnutrition. Dietary supplements can help ensure patients receive essential nutrients and maintain a healthy weight.7

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