Some people may think about adding traditional healing to their cancer treatment.

Traditional healing (Rongoā Māori / Pasifika healing)

In Aotearoa New Zealand, this may include aspects of Rongoā Māori and Pasifika healing methods which have been used for generations. As with other treatment types, these may relieve symptoms, but they may also change how your cancer treatment works.

Advice about cancer and its treatment should only be provided by a person’s cancer treatment team, GP or whānau doctor.

If you are using, or plan to use, any of the following complementary therapy methods, we encourage you to discuss this with your cancer treatment team.  This is important as some therapies may change how your conventional cancer treatment works.

It is also important to understand that many non-conventional treatments, particularly those that are plant-based or obtained from overseas, have not been tested for possible harmful interactions with conventional anti-cancer drug treatments. This can lead to unexpected side-effects or the conventional treatment working less well against the cancer.

What is traditional medicine?

Many countries have cultural beliefs and practices of healing that have developed over time. These are generally based on healing the whole person.

Traditional medicine in Aotearoa New Zealand includes:


Traditional healing has been a central part of Māori culture for generations. Values, beliefs and teachings from kaumātua (elders) and tohunga (healers) have seen Māori focus on total wellbeing that covers:

  • taha tinana (the physical domain)
  • taha hinengaro (the domain of mind and behaviour)
  • taha wairua (the spiritual domain)
  • taha whānau (the family or social domain)

When Māori are faced with tough decisions in health care or treatment, some may choose traditional methods based on rongoā Māori, romiromi or mirimiri. These therapies are based on the use of native plants, massage therapy and spiritual healing.


Pasifika Traditional healing has long been used to help Pacific people in their recovery from illness. It involves treating the person as a whole, where a person’s mental, emotional, physical and spiritual, family and community needs are looked after together.

The treatment offered to each person can vary, depending on need. Medicinal plants and herbs may be used during the treatment process, as well as stones and massage.

Using traditional healing methods

It is important to make sure that any traditional healing methods you are using are not likely to cause any harmful side effects. This includes using massage, especially if you are recovering from surgery or radiation treatment.

If you choose to include traditional healing as part of your treatment, let your treatment team know. They may ask questions about the types of treatments your traditional healer is using. This can be difficult to explain, especially if there are no English words you can use to explain these healing methods.

If you are finding it hard to speak with your cancer treatment team, find someone to advocate on your behalf, so that both your traditional healers and cancer treatment team can work together to support you.

Last updated: January 9, 2023