Complementary & Alternative Therapies

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

The phrase complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is used to describe products and practices that are not typically treatment options within the mainstream medical system. These are methods that some patients find helpful in treating some of the symptoms or side effects of cancer, in relieving pain, and improving quality of life. Although these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, in general, complementary medicine refers to treatments used in addition to standard medical care, while alternative medicine is used instead of standard medical care.1,2

While some patients find CAM methods helpful, others do not. Many of these methods do not have scientific evidence proving that they are effective. Some of these methods may even be harmful to a patient’s health, or interact badly with the patient’s standard treatment plan. To avoid this, it is extremely important to speak with your healthcare providers before starting treatment with any sort of complementary or alternative methods.3

While there are many CAM options that are safe for patients with bladder cancer to try and may help them to feel better, there is no type of CAM treatment that has been proven to treat or cure the cancer itself. Any CAM option that claims to do so is a fraud. Your healthcare providers can help you to investigate any CAM option that you are considering and help you look for signs that the treatment may be ineffective or even dangerous.

Why do some people choose to try CAM?

People with bladder cancer may consider trying CAM treatments (in addition to their standard treatment plan) for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, patients are seeking ways to relieve the side effects of their cancer treatments in ways that do not involve taking more medicines. Others are looking for ways to improve their quality of life and to cope with the emotions they are feeling about their cancer and its treatment.2

Some patients have found CAM methods to be helpful to them in the past, and would like to try incorporating them alongside their standard cancer treatment. Still others feel that CAM methods make them feel that they are taking an active role in improving their own health and quality of life. Other patients consider CAM therapies worth trying out because many of the safe CAM therapies have few or no side effects, even if they do not end up working very effectively for that patient.2

What types of CAM are safe for people with bladder cancer?

Safety should be a patient’s first priority when considering CAM methods, which is why it is important to involve your cancer care team in the process. Some cancer treatment centers provide “integrative therapy” where patients can receive certain types of CAM treatments that are known to be safe.3

The American Cancer Society provides examples of CAM methods that are generally safe and sometimes effective for patients with cancer when used alongside the patient’s standard cancer treatment and in consultation with the patient’s healthcare providers. Some of these are described below.3


Acupuncture is an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. During an acupuncture session, thin needles are inserted into specific points on the patient’s body to help treat a range of symptoms. Some patients find that it can help to relieve pain and nausea.3

Massage therapy

During massage therapy, a trained professional manipulates, rubs, and kneads a patient’s muscles and soft tissues in specific therapeutic ways. Some patients find that massage therapy can help them to cope with emotions such as stress, anxiety, and depression. It can also help some patients relieve pain.3


Patients who practice meditation use special methods of concentration and self-reflection to help them to physically relax and to cope with their emotions more effectively.3

Tai Chi

Practicing the ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi can help some patients feel better and improve their strength and balance. Tai Chi incorporates special types of movement, meditation, and controlled breathing. Some patients experience similar effects from practicing yoga, a form of exercise that involves special body postures and breathing strategies.3

Biofeedback treatment

Biofeedback treatment can help some patients to gain more control over their bodies’ physical processes, such as their pulse, blood pressure, temperature, and muscle tension.3

Art and music therapy

Some patients find art therapy and music therapy to be beneficial in helping them to cope with emotions and improve their quality of life through creative activities guided by professional therapists.3


The practice of aromatherapy uses essential oils that come from plants, which can help some patients to reduce stress, relieve nausea, and improve their moods.3

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