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.
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
We don’t know whether it helps people to feel better because of the homeopathic remedies or because people believe that they will work (the placebo effect). It is likely that the care and attention from the homeopathic practitioner also helps.
What homeopathy involves
It is important that you see a trained and registered homeopathic practitioner. Some medical doctors are trained homeopaths. There are hospitals in the UK that offer homeopathy on the NHS.
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 you may need to go back a few times to find the best remedy to help you.
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. A pharmacist might be able to advise you on those that are safe to use. 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.
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.
But, some scientists and doctors think that the report was flawed or biased and have said that they have serious reservations about its findings.
The UK government responded that patient choice is an important factor to consider. It has decided to continue to allow NHS homeopathic hospitals and homeopathic treatments where local doctors recommend them.
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.
In 2005, the Lancet published a meta analysis of 110 homeopathy trials. This can give a more accurate picture than looking at each result individually. The trials were looking at homeopathy to treat particular illnesses. They also looked at whether benefits of homeopathy could be due to a placebo effect. A placebo effect is an improvement in the condition of people who think they are being treated, but are in fact getting a dummy treatment.
The researchers in the 2005 analysis found that when account was taken for biases in the trials, there was weak evidence for a specific effect (an improvement in the person's condition) with homeopathic remedies. But there was strong evidence for specific effects of conventional treatments. They said that this finding is compatible with the notion that the benefits of homeopathy are placebo effects.
In 2006, a review of 6 trials of homeopathy in cancer care could not find evidence that homeopathic remedies worked in treating cancer.
Many people say that homeopathy has reduced their symptoms and helped them to feel better. Some studies have looked at using particular homeopathy remedies to treat cancer symptoms or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
A review in 2009 looked at the effectiveness and safety of homeopathic medicines used to prevent or treat side effects of cancer treatments. 8 trials were reviewed and two reported positive results. One trial of 254 people showed that calendula cream worked better than trolamine (a commonly used non steroid cream) for preventing skin soreness due to radiotherapy. A very small trial of 32 people showed that a homeopathic mouthwash called Traumeel S (containing belladonna, arnica, St John's wort and echinacea) worked better than a placebo to prevent a sore mouth due to chemotherapy. Some doctors and researchers have concerns about the way in which these trials were carried out. So more research is needed to check these results and show whether homeopathic medicines really can help to reduce the side effects of cancer treatments.
2 small studies have suggested that homeopathy may help women with breast cancer to cope with menopause symptoms. But a review of treatments for menopausal symptoms in 2010 found that homeopathy had no effect.
A trial in 2000 showed that homeopathic medicine seemed to help to reduce skin soreness during radiotherapy in breast cancer patients. But this clinical trial was very small and so we need further research to know whether homeopathy really has an effect.
It is not possible to know whether homeopathy can reduce sickness during chemotherapy because studies so far have been very poorly reported.
A very small study was carried out in Germany in 2011. It found that patients with cancer treated with classical homeopathy had a better quality of life and less tiredness (fatigue) than patients who didn't have homeopathy. But there were only 22 people in the study and this is too small to show whether homeopathy really had any effect.
A study of 9 patients took place in Chile in 2010. It looked at using a homeopathic injection therapy called Traumeel to reduce pain in patients after breast cancer treatment. The patients had a high level of pain even though they were taking painkillers. The researchers found that all patients had less pain after the injection. They also reported a better quality of life. But this was again a very small study and we need bigger studies to show whether Traumeel really works in this situation.
In 2010, a study looked at whether homeopathic products could affect the growth of breast cancer cells in the test tube. This is very early research.
The scientists studied 4 remedies (Carcinosin, Phytolacca, Conium and Thuja) and added them to 2 types of breast cancer cells and 1 type of healthy breast cells. The remedies slowed or stopped the growth of some of the cancer cells and made some of the cells self destruct. The researchers said that the findings show that these homeopathic substances have a biological effect and they recommend further research.
In 2013, a study looked at the effects of 5 homeopathic remedies on particular cells in the immune system called natural killer cells (NKCs). Natural killer cells are important in killing cancer cells. The remedies were Coenzyme Compositum, Ubichinon Compositum, Glyoxal Compositum, Katalysatoren and Traumeel. Some trials looked at the immune cells in the laboratory in test tubes. Other trials measured the cells in the blood of patients with advanced cancer. The researchers found that the homeopathic preparations increased the cell killing ability of the natural killer cells. This study was very small but the authors felt that these homoeopathic preparations could be used to boost the immune system in people with advanced cancer. We need further research to find out the exact effects.
An Australian study in 2012 found that a third of parents used complementary and alternative medicines for their children at the end of their lives.
The most commonly used therapies were organic foods, faith healing, and homeopathy. Most parents felt that the therapies had helped their child.
A large German study in 2011 found that the children who used homeopathy were very satisfied. Most of the children said that they would recommend the therapy to others.
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.
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
Your first consultation with a private homeopath will usually cost between £20 to £90. Further appointments usually cost less – about £20 to £60.
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.
You won’t pay for your consultation if you have your treatment at one of the UK NHS homeopathic hospitals, but you will need to pay for your remedies. This will be the same as an NHS prescription cost.
Appointments tend to be shorter than they would with a private homeopath. You will need a referral from your doctor to go to one of these hospitals.
Finding a homeopath
You won’t need to find a homeopath privately if your doctor refers you to one of the homeopathic hospitals. But if you are looking for private treatment, you need to 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
Homeopathy isn't widely available on the NHS. There are 2 NHS hospitals and a number of other clinics or GPs that offer homeopathy. They see people with a variety of conditions, including cancer, and offer other types of complementary therapies. Some clinics run specific programmes for people with cancer. You will need a referral from your doctor.
The British Homeopathic Association has information on how to get homeopathic treatment on the NHS.
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)