Document Type


Date of Original Version



Pharmacy Practice


Context: The aim of palliative care is to improve quality of life for patients with serious illnesses by treating their symptoms and adverse effects. Hospice care also aims for this for patients with a life expectancy of six months or less. When conventional therapies do not provide adequate symptom management or produce their own adverse effects, patients, families, and caregivers may prefer complementary or alternative approaches in their care.

Objectives: The objectives of this study were to evaluate the available evidence on the use of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) in hospice and palliative care and to summarize their potential benefits.

Methods: A defined search strategy was used in reviewing literature from major databases. Searches were conducted using base terms and the symptom in question. Symptoms included anxiety, pain, dyspnea, cough, fatigue, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting. Studies were selected for further evaluation based on relevancy and study type. References of systematic reviews were also assessed. After evaluation using quality assessment tools, findings were summarized and the review was structured based on Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.

Results: Out of 4682 studies, 17 were identified for further evaluation. Therapies included acupressure, acupuncture, aromatherapy massage, breathing, hypnotherapy, massage, meditation, music therapy, reflexology, and reiki. Many studies demonstrated a short-term benefit in symptom improvement from baseline with CAM, although a significant benefit was not found between groups.

Conclusion: CAM may provide a limited short-term benefit in patients with symptom burden. Additional studies are needed to clarify the potential value of CAM in the hospice or palliative setting.