Homeopathy is one of the most common complementary therapies used by people with cancer.
Although there have been many research studies into homeopathy there is no scientific or medical evidence that it can prevent cancer or work as a cancer treatment.
What is homeopathy?
Homeopathy is based on the theory of treating like with like. To treat an illness, a homeopathic therapist (homeopath) uses tiny doses of a substance that in large doses would actually cause the symptoms of the illness.
Homeopathic remedies are made from plant, mineral and animal substances. They are diluted in water and shaken until there is little, if any, of the original substance left.
Homeopaths believe that the original substance somehow leaves a molecular blueprint in the water that triggers your body's healing mechanisms. They use the water to make drops, pills or creams.
Why people with cancer use homeopathy
As with most types of complementary therapy, people use it because it may help them feel better or more in control of their situation.
Some people choose homeopathy because it is a completely different type of treatment compared to conventional medicine.
It is used alongside conventional medicine. You should not have it instead of conventional cancer treatment.
Homeopaths believe that it can treat a wide range of symptoms and conditions.
Homeopathy for people with cancer is promoted as a natural way to help you:
- cope with stress, anxiety and depression
- control symptoms and side effects such as pain, sickness and tiredness
People report that they feel better with homeopathy but there is no evidence to show that it helps with any health condition. It is thought that it may have a placebo effect. This is when people feel better if they believe they have taken something to make them feel better.
Homeopathy in the UK
In 2010, the UK Science and Technology Committee recommended that the NHS stop funding homeopathy. They said there is no evidence that it works beyond the placebo effect.
And in 2017, NHS England recommended that GPs and other prescribers do not prescribe it, agreeing with the statement in 2010 that there is no evidence that it works for any health condition.
Research into homeopathy
Many clinical trials have looked at how well homeopathy works in treating various illnesses. None of them give any evidence that homeopathy can cure or prevent any type of disease, including cancer.
There has also been research looking at whether homeopathy can
- reduce cancer symptoms or treatment side effects
- boost the immune system
- help children with cancer
- other health conditions
In March 2015, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia published a report. A working group identified 57 systematic reviews that contained 176 individual studies. They compared groups of people who were given homeopathic treatment with similar groups of people who were not given homeopathic treatment (controlled studies).
The report concluded that there is no reliable evidence that homeopathy works for any health conditions.
The NHMRC recommends that homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.
What homeopathy involves
On your first visit, your homeopath will ask you general questions about your health, lifestyle, diet and medical history. They will probably ask about sleep patterns, your mood and emotions.
This information helps the homeopath decide on the best remedies to pick specifically for you. These are classed as unlicensed medicines.
The consultation usually lasts about 45 minutes. Further appointments may be shorter, perhaps only half an hour.
Homeopathic remedies come as tablets, granules, powders or liquid. You take them by mouth or as creams or drops. Your therapist will let you know how to take your remedies and how often.
They’ll also let you know when to go back for a check up to see if your condition has improved. If you have a long lasting (chronic) condition they may suggest you go back a few times.
To make best use of these follow up appointments, your homeopath may ask you to keep a record of any changes in your symptoms or condition.
You can buy homeopathic remedies over the counter at the chemist or in health food shops to treat minor ailments. Remember though, that these remedies will not be specifically tailored for you.
You can also buy homeopathic remedies over the internet. We advise that you don't do this because there is no guarantee that you will receive the correct remedy or that it will be of good quality.
Using homeopathic medicine is generally safe. Some homeopaths warn people that their symptoms could get slightly worse before they settle down and improve. But this doesn't happen very often. A Swiss meta analysis of homeopathy trials in 2006 found that homeopathy given appropriately by a trained homeopath was safe and had few side effects.
It is still very important to tell your cancer doctors before using any homeopathic remedy. Tell your homeopath that you are having cancer treatment too.
What homeopathy costs
The cost of a consultation with a homeopath is usually cost between £30 to £125.
Your remedy will usually be included in the consultation price, but do check this first. Homeopathic tablets or other products usually cost around £4 to £10 if you need to buy them separately.
Finding a homeopath
You should make sure that you have chosen a qualified and reputable homeopath.
There is currently no single professional organisation that regulates homeopathic practitioners in the UK. They can join several associations. There is no law to say that they have to, but most trained homeopaths belong to one of the professional organisations.
The organisations can give you a list of homeopaths in your area.
Questions you might ask
- How many years of training have you had?
- How long have you been practising?
- Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
- Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)
These UK organisations can put you in touch with health professionals who are also registered homeopaths.
This is the national organisation for registered homeopaths. It's members are also registered healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses and dentists. It ensures the highest standards of homeopathic education, training and practice. You can contact the British Homeopathic Association to find a homeopath who is a member of the faculty.
Phone: 01582 408680
Homeopathy on the NHS
There are 2 NHS hospitals and a number of other clinics or GPs that offer integrated medicine. They see people with a variety of conditions, including cancer, and offer a number of types of complementary therapies. Some clinics run specific programmes for people with cancer. You will need a referral from your doctor.
In 2017, NHS England recommended that doctors should not prescribe homeopathy. The British Homeopathic Association are challenging this decision at the moment.
This hospital provides complementary therapies on the NHS as well as privately. It runs a care programme for people with cancer. The staff can provide homeopathy, acupuncture, osteopathy, stress management and many complementary therapies such as massage, and reflexology. You can ask your GP or consultant to refer you.
Great Ormond Street
Phone: 020 3456 7890
The Glasgow NHS Centre for Integrative Care is part of Gartnavel General Hospital. The centre offers a range of complementary therapies including homeopathy. People with cancer usually get an appointment within weeks of referral. You can ask your GP or consultant to refer you.
1053 Great Western Road
Phone: 0141 211 1600 (hospital switchboard)