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What homeopathy is

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. So 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 vigorously many times until there is little, if any, of the original substance left. The water is used to make homeopathic liquid (drops), pills or creams. Homeopaths believe that the original substance somehow leaves a molecular blueprint in the water that triggers your body's healing mechanisms.


Why people with cancer use homeopathy

Homeopathy is one of the most common complementary therapies used by people with cancer. 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 offers a completely different type of treatment compared to conventional medicine. 

Homeopathy is used alongside conventional medicine and should not be used instead of conventional cancer treatment.

Homeopathy for people with cancer is promoted as a natural way to help you relax and cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. It is also promoted as a way of controlling symptoms and side effects such as pain, sickness and tiredness. Homeopaths believe it can treat a wide range of symptoms and conditions.

We don’t really know whether homeopathy helps people to feel better because of the homeopathic remedies or because people believe that they will work (the placebo effect). It may also help people to feel better because they get care and attention from the homeopathic practitioner.


What homeopathy involves

There are several homeopathic hospitals in the UK that give homeopathy on the NHS as part of their care. Some medical doctors are trained homeopaths. It is important to make sure that you are seeing a trained and registered homeopathic practitioner.

On your first visit, your homeopath will ask you some 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 remedy for you. They will then pick remedies 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.

It is possible to buy homeopathic remedies over the counter in chemist shops and health food shops to treat minor ailments. A pharmacist may be able to advise you on those that are safe to use. It is important to remember that these remedies will not be tailored specifically for you.

You can also buy homeopathic remedies over the internet but we advise that you don't do this. There is no control over quality and there is no guarantee that you will receive the correct remedy.


Homeopathy in the UK

In a report published in February 2010, the UK Science and Technology Committee produced a report that recommended that the NHS should stop funding homeopathy. They said there is no evidence that it works beyond the placebo effect. However, some scientists and doctors believe that the report was flawed or biased and have said that they have serious reservations about its findings. The UK Government also 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 in cancer care

Recent research into homeopathy for cancer has looked at treating cancer, reducing symptoms or side effects and boosting immunity. 

Homeopathy to treat cancer

Many clinical trials have looked at how well homeopathy works in treating various illnesses. None of these trials give strong scientific evidence to prove 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.

Homeopathy to reduce cancer symptoms or treatment side effects

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 did not 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.

Homeopathy to boost immunity

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.

Homeopathy for children with cancer

An Australian study in 2012 looked at the use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) in children with cancer at the end of their life. They found that a third of parents used CAMs for their children. 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 looked at the use of homeopathy in children with cancer. It found that the children who used homeopathy were very satisfied. Most of the children said that they would recommend the therapy to others. 


Research into homeopathy for health conditions

In March 2015, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in Australia published a report. A working group assessed the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy for treating health conditions.

The assessment was based on

  • An overview of published systematic reviews
  • An independent evaluation of information provided by homeopathy interest groups and the public
  • Consideration of clinical practice guidelines and government reports on homeopathy published in other countries

The 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 are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy works. The NHMRC recommends that homeopathy should not be used to treat health conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious.


Side effects

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 does not 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.


Talking to your doctors

If you are having treatment for cancer it is very important to tell your cancer doctors before using any homeopathic remedy. And you should let your homeopath know 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 homeopathic remedy will usually be included in the consultation price, but do check first. If you need to buy them separately, homeopathic tablets or other products usually cost around £4 to £10.

If you have your treatment at one of the UK NHS homeopathic hospitals you won’t pay for your consultation 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

If your doctor refers you to one of the homeopathic hospitals you won’t need to find a homeopath privately. But if you are looking for private treatment, you need to make sure that you have chosen a qualified and reputable homeopath.

Currently in the UK, there is no single professional organisation that regulates homeopathic practitioners. They can join several associations. There is no law to say that they have to, but most trained homeopaths belong to one of the organisations below. The best way to find a homeopathy practitioner is to

  • Contact one of the organisations listed below and ask for a list of homeopaths in your area
  • Ask the homeopath how many years of training they've had and how long they've been practicing
  • Ask them if they’ve worked with cancer patients before
  • Ask if they have indemnity insurance (in case of negligence)

Homeopathic hospitals in the UK

There are 5 NHS homeopathic hospitals in the UK. They all see people with a variety of conditions, including cancer. They also offer other types of complementary therapies. Some of them run specific programmes for people with cancer.

You will need a referral from your doctor to go to one of these hospitals. The British Homeopathic Association has information on how to get homeopathic treatment on the NHS. The hospitals are listed below.

Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine
Great Ormond Street
Phone: 020 3456 7890
Website: www.uclh.nhs.uk/OurServices/OurHospitals/RLHIM/Pages/Home.aspx

This hospital provides complementary therapies on the NHS as well as privately. They run a care programme for people with cancer. They 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.

Bristol Homeopathic Hospital
Hengrove Promenade
BS14 0DE
Phone: 01173 429 832

This hospital offers homeopathy and complementary therapies on the NHS only. There are also three clinics run in Bath. You can ask your GP or consultant to refer you for treatment.

Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital
1053 Great Western Road
Phone: 0141 211 1600

This hospital runs a specialist cancer care clinic offering homeopathy on the NHS. People with cancer usually get an appointment within weeks of referral. You can ask your GP or consultant to refer you.

Tunbridge Wells Homeopathic Hospital
Church Road
Tunbridge Wells
Phone: 01892 522598

This hospital offers homeopathy on the NHS. There is no specialist cancer clinic, but the hospital regularly sees people with cancer. You must be referred by your GP or consultant.

Liverpool Homeopathic Hospital
Liverpool Department of Homeopathic Medicine
Old Swan Health Centre
St Oswald's Street
Old Swan
L13 2GA
Phone: 0151 285 3707

This hospital runs a complementary cancer clinic offering treatment with homeopathic remedies and Iscador (mistletoe therapy).


Homeopathy organisations

These homeopathy organisations in the UK can put you in touch with health professionals who are also registered homeopaths.

British Homeopathic Association (BHA)
Hahnemann House
29 Park Street West
Phone: 01582 408675
Website: www.britishhomeopathic.org
Email: info@britishhomeopathic.org

This organisation supplies a list of health professionals and hospitals that practice homeopathy, books on homeopathy, and a magazine.

The Faculty of Homeopathy
This is the national organisation for statutorily registered homeopaths whose members are also registered healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses and dentists. They ensure the highest standards of homeopathic education, training and practice. You can contact the British Homeopathic Association (details above) to find a homeopath who is a member of the faculty.

Phone: 01582 408680
Website: www.facultyofhomeopathy.org

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Updated: 5 February 2015