According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is a group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled, it can result in death. Although cancer is often referred to as a single condition, it actually consists of more than 100 different diseases.
Cancer can arise in many sites and behave differently depending on its organ of origin. Breast cancer, for example, has different characteristics than lung cancer. It is important to understand that cancer originating in one body organ takes its characteristics with it even if it spreads to another part of the body. For example, metastatic breast cancer in the lungs continues to behave like breast cancer when viewed under a microscope, and it continues to look like a cancer that originated in the breast.
Cancer types can be grouped into broader categories:
Cancer treatment can take many different forms, and it is always tailored to the individual patient. Treatment decisions depend on:
The conventional cancer treatment is to remove all or as much of the tumor as possible and prevent the recurrence or spread of the primary tumor.
The major types of treatment are listed below.
Physical activity  of a mild to moderate nature has been shown to improve quality of life and decrease fatigue in cancer patients. Since exercise has been shown to improve mood, reduce insomnia, and elevate appetite, it is assumed these benefits would also be useful for those same complaints in oncology patients.
Nutrition  research-including that about individual foods, phytochemicals, multivitamin supplements, and antioxidants-has had conflicting results. While there seems to be agreement that diet plays some role in the development of cancer, clinical recommendations for prevention are still unclear, and research data is not persuasive. See Research on Diet and Cancer .
The American Cancer Society  recommends a simple, conservative, "healthy" diet, with a plant emphasis:
While antioxidants have been associated with improved health, it is important to avoid high-dose antioxidant supplements during active radiation therapy because they might prevent radiation from effectively killing the cancer cells.
There are many cancer types, all with varying extents of disease. Some cancers have no symptoms and can be found on routine screening exams. Others might be diagnosed when there is extensive disease, with the individual having many symptoms of illness. This section focuses on areas of cancer care for which complementary healing practices are most often considered: stimulating the immune system, improving life balance, and managing side-effects of the cancer or cancer treatments.
Conventional physicians have begun an organized evaluation and application of integrative practices for cancer care called Integrative Oncology, which is "a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to cancer care that addresses all participants at all levels of their being and experience." It is important for patients to be aware of this option, because physicians practicing in this field might be better able to help them to:
Learn more here: A Bit on Categories Beyond the Scope of this Section .
Mind/body therapies  may have whole body impacts that are meaningful but difficult to measure scientifically. These therapies provide an internal sense of mastery, enable greater flexibility in emotions and beliefs, and empower individuals to make comprehensive lifestyle changes that were previously unobtainable.
Research has supported their use in many different subsets of cancer patients.
Many people find that massage brings a temporary feeling of well being and relaxation.
Massage is also used to relieve pain and stiffness, increase mobility, rehabilitate injured muscles, and reduce the pain of headaches and backaches. Massage therapy  has shown positive impacts in more than 5,000 research studies.
In cancer patients, massage therapy and manual lymphatic drainage improve lymphedema; decrease stress, anxiety, depression , pain, and fatigue; and improve sleep.
This category includes practices such as healing touch , therapeutic touch , Reiki , acupressure, Qi Gong , and others. These practices are delivered through the hands, with intent to raise the amount of universal life energy (qi or ch'i) and balance the energy flow within the body by unblocking or removing disturbances within the body's energy paths.
Proponents claim that the blockage or disturbance of the body's energy paths is associated with illness, weakness, and pain. Energy medicine practitioners focus on realigning and strengthening the flow of energy in order to decrease pain, ease muscle tension, speed healing, improve sleep, and generally enhance the body's natural ability to heal itself.
Some research on cancer patients has found improved fatigue and quality of life through these techniques.
There is ample evidence indicating that acupuncture prevents the nausea associated with chemotherapy and post-operatively from anesthesia.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is, for most individuals and their families, a scary and traumatic experience. It is important to take time to think clearly and work to understand the diagnosis, treatment, and the short and long term implications of the condition. It is critical, no matter what the cancer or its extent, that the patient find hope and support.
The timing on integrating healing practices into cancer care will vary.
Speak to your own oncologist about services available in the local area, but also talk to other cancer patients about local resources. National centers can also sometimes help individuals find local resources. Nationally, integrative oncology is a growing field, and you may be able to find a consultant on this.
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Serven-Schreiber, D. (2009). Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Viking, Penguin Group.
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute 
Steven J. Gould's The Median Isn't the Message  - article from an evolutionary biologist who lived with Cancer for 20 years
EmbodiWorks  - Integrative cancer care resources