Complementary approaches to dealing with cancer have been less thoroughly tested than conventional medicines. They have no proven effect on cancer growth, but they seem to help many people to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, and make people feel better. Some may also help to reduce particular side effects. Relaxation techniques are now often part of conventional support for many patients and are increasingly being offered free at cancer treatment and support centres and at hospices, as part of a psychological approach to learning how to manage with the stress of cancer.
Because some complementary therapies may be inappropriate for people with particular types of cancer or those having a specific treatment, people with cancer should discuss complementary therapies with their hospital specialist before having them.
Only a few of the men we spoke to considered complementary therapies because surgery was presented as the most effective treatment. While Jim believes that complementary therapies can help, he didn’t consider them on this occasion as he was most concerned about how much of his penis he was going to lose through surgery.
While he would want to see the evidence of effectiveness before using complementary therapies,...
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Age at interview: 70
Well I’m much less sympathetic to complementary medicine these days. I that’s not to say I’d have been I’d be very happy to think about... you know as I’ve mentioned food, physical activity and all the rest of it. But I don’t necessarily consider that as complimentary medicine. I’m and also in terms of counselling therapy that’s fine. But I’m less... depends what it depends what you put under the bag of complementary, is that the word you used?
Yeah complementary therapies. Yeah. But if we get into the realms of... oh God I can’t remember what it’s called now. It’s completely slipped. The one, that’s when you take millions of a percentage of a whatever. The, you know… I’ve lost it but the various the various I’d be err I would want to know. I wouldn’t turn it down but I’d want to know. I’m because I am more I’m far more sceptical than perhaps I once was with complementary medicines.
So you’d want to know about the evidence behind them?
Yeah I would. Yeah, yeah.
As the word 'complementary' suggests, health professionals recommend that these approaches should be considered an addition to and not a substitute for conventional medical treatment. However, sometimes people choose to use therapies or dietary supplements as an alternative to conventional treatment.
After diagnosis, Jordan received advice about dietary changes from a therapist friend; it seemed...
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Age at interview: 58
Age at diagnosis: 57
The hospital called me in within a week and... did a biopsy... and then two weeks later confirmed it was cancer of the penis. At that stage it wasn’t particularly bad. It wasn’t affecting my daily life, so, I sort of put it on the back burner and hoped it would go away [cleared throat], and also seeked, or sought, alternative medical treatment. I’ve a friend who’s a therapist and she gave me good advice and changed my diet and things like that and seemed... to hold it at bay, but obviously it wasn’t succeeding. So to cut a long story short, my wife… and my two daughters were pushing me to have surgery because that’s – even… my therapist friend suggested that surgery was the answer to get rid of it, to stop the strain on the body. Delay, delay, delayed it for various reasons, and eventually went ahead. The surgeon could originally have done it in April... but it ended up in September because I’d put it off that long... because I’m a bit of a coward and that’s the way it is. So it was, basically [cough] excuse me, basically the pressure from the family that made me do it in the end. I’d probably still be struggling along at the moment, but that’s what family is for, isn’t it? I had the surgery, I think, the 27th September, and I’ve yet to go back, to see the consultant. That’s in less than a week now, and he will tell me how I’m getting on hopefully.
Although research shows that eating a healthy diet can reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, so far there is no scientific evidence suggesting that following any particular diet, dietary supplement, or avoidance of certain elements of a diet can treat cancer or prevent it coming back.
Experimental treatments are used in what are called ‘clinical trials’, which are research studies involving people. They test how well particular treatments work and whether they are safe. Unless people take part in well-designed trials, doctors do not have enough evidence to know if a treatment is both effective and safe. Without trials, there is a risk that people will be given treatments which do not work and which may even do harm. Just because a treatment is new and is undergoing a trial does not mean it is necessarily better than existing treatments, and it may have bad side effects.
None of the men interviewed were invited to try experimental treatments or take part in a trial, although many said they would have considered this if offered. Rodger and Jim said they would have tried anything if it meant they could avoid surgery. Rodger and Frosty said they would have followed their consultant’s advice about whether they should get involved in an experimental treatment and Mick would take part if the doctors said it was in his best interest. Michael said it was unlikely he would have agreed to an experimental treatment; he would have ‘chickened out’ and gone for surgery.
For further information on clinical trials see the Medical research
Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated January 2015.