Complementary And Alternative Medicine (CAM) for Skin Cancer Overview

There are many different common medical treatments to eliminate skin cancers using conventional procedures. These include freezing of the skin’s surface to allow the cancerous cells to slough off, surgical removal of the tissue or the use of electricity or lasers to kill the cancerous tissues. There are also options for radiation and chemotherapy treatments that are more appropriate for skin cancers that are in difficult to treat areas or those that in advanced stages and have spread to other areas of the body.1 However, there are also complementary and alternative types of treatments that show promise in managing skin cancers and preventing reoccurrence.

Photodynamic Therapy

One of the newer options in cancer treatment is the use of Photodynamic Therapy or PDT. This is a combination of specific wavelength of light treatments and drugs. The drugs that are used alter the composition of the cancerous cells and make them highly sensitive to the specific light. In turn, the directed light kills off the cancerous cells which are much more sensitive due to the photosensitizing drugs. There is some carry over of light sensitivity to all the skin of the body, so people that undergo this type of treatment need to be very cautious of sun exposure post procedure for at least five to six weeks.2

Generally this procedure is used for skin cancers that are close to the surface and those that are not extensive in size. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the photosensitizer agent, porfirmer sodium, for use with skin cancers and some other types of cancers. One advantage of this technique is that it can be used for many areas at once with similar or better results than other treatment options such as cryotherapy.

Biological Therapies

Biological therapies are also an essential new field in skin cancer treatment. Biological therapies use naturally occurring agents and processes in the body to actually target and kill the cancerous cells. This can be done through several processes including the use of interferons, monoclonal antibodies, gene therapy, interleukins and colony-stimulating factors. The biological therapy boosts the effects of the natural biological response modifiers (BRMs) that are responsible for the protection of the cells in the body.

Although naturally occurring in the human body, the BRMs that are used in this type of complementary cancer treatment are created within the laboratory and then introduced into the cancer patient. Depending on the type of cancer treatment and the type of skin cancer the BRMs can also be used to decrease the side effects noted in traditional cancer therapies, usually chemotherapy and radiation. This minimizes the damage to healthy tissues that often adds to complications even after successful skin cancer treatment.3

As with all cancer treatment options, including complementary and alternative therapies, there may be side effects using biological therapies. These typically include rashes on the skin or symptoms similar to that noted with chemotherapy or radiation including flu like symptoms and difficulties with appetite and digestion. Other patients may experience pain in the bones and muscles, allergic reactions and extreme fatigue. Ongoing research into the use of biological therapies continues in an attempt to make these treatments less prone to side effects in a greater range of patients and cancer therapy options. For most patients, this level of treatment is not necessary as milder treatments are usually effective.

Cancer Fighting Diets

Diet and specific food consumption or avoidance is also a key area of research for both traditional and alternative medical treatment of cancer. Alternative medicine and holistic medical professionals recommend a very bland diet for anyone that is taking traditional cancer treatment therapies. This is usually based on the Macrobiotic diet which was originally developed by Hippocrates and used throughout Japan and China as a diet to balance the body system.

The Macrobiotic diet includes specific foods in specific proportions. The diet is very natural and based on seasonally available foods in combinations that are comprised of daily intake levels of:

  • 40-60% whole grains with an emphasis on brown rice
  • 25-30% raw and cooked vegetables
  • 5-10% beans and legumes and nuts and seeds

Meats and seafood is consumed sparingly, only two or three times per week. Foods to be avoiding include those containing caffeine (except green tea), spicy foods, processed foods, dairy, alcohol, sugar and sweeteners, and any type of chemically processed

Other diets have also become important in alternative and complementary forms of cancer treatment. Diets that limit amino acids, particularly the amino acid leucine have shown promise in literally starving cancerous cells. This is particularly true for malignant melanoma cells with the leucine deficit in the body preventing these cells from growing and spreading.

Leucine is naturally stored in the human body in muscles, so completely removing all leucine from the body is not possible. Limiting protein intake and therefore amino acid intake combined with specific drugs that disrupt the natural energy production cycle in the cells activates a process in the body known as autophagy or self breakdown, which provides immediate energy. The theory is that when there is no leucine present, the process cannot activate, which creates an energy depletion and eventual death of the malignant cells.5 However, it should be noted that there are very limited studies to support diets as a major factor in treating cancers or precancers.

New research and increased interest in using the body and body functions to develop cancer fighting therapies is a major focus area of ongoing research. In addition many patients that use alternative or complementary types of cancer prevention options post procedure report feeling healthier and more positive about their long term prognosis and recovery.6


1 Skin Cancer: Treatments And Drugs. (n.d.). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic:

2 Photodynamic Therapy For Cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Cancer Insitute:

3 Biological Therapies for Cancer: Questions and Answers. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Cancer Institute:

4 Macrobiotics. (n.d.)

5 Leucine deprivation proves deadly to malignant melanoma cells. (2011, May 16). Retrieved from Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research:

6 Donaldson, M. S. (2004). Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet. Nutrition Journal .