To review the evidence for efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities in treating pain, dyspnea, and nausea and vomiting in patients near the end of life, original articles were evaluated following a search through MEDLINE, CancerLIT, AIDSLINE, PsycLIT, CINAHL, and Social Work Abstracts databases. Search terms included alternative medicine, palliative care, pain, dyspnea, and nausea. Two independent reviewers extracted data, including study design, subjects, sample size, age, response rate, CAM modality, and outcomes. The efficacy of a CAM modality was evaluated in 21 studies of symptomatic adult patients with incurable conditions. Of these, only 12 were directly accessed via literature searching. Eleven were randomized controlled trials, two were non-randomized controlled trials, and eight were case series. Acupuncture, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, supportive group therapy, self-hypnosis, and massage therapy may provide pain relief in cancer pain or in dying patients. Relaxation/imagery can improve oral mucositis pain. Patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may benefit from the use of acupuncture, acupressure, and muscle relaxation with breathing retraining to relieve dyspnea. Because of publication bias, trials on CAM modalities may not be found on routine literature searches. Despite the paucity of controlled trials, there are data to support the use of some CAM modalities in terminally ill patients. This review generated evidence-based recommendations and identified areas for future research.