Cancer & Complementary Therapies

Cancer and complementary therapiesCancer & Complementary Therapies

Many people use complementary therapies alongside cancer treatment to help reduce symptoms and improve emotional wellbeing. Complementary therapy is the term used for a wide range of therapies including massage therapy, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and reflexology. It is important to be aware of the difference between complementary therapies, which are used alongside cancer treatment, and alternative therapies, which are promoted as an alternative to medical cancer treatment and sometimes claim to cure cancer. More than one in three cancer patients use complementary therapies and many report beneficial effects such as improved relaxation and reduced stress and tension. If you are undergoing cancer treatment it is important to let your health care team know so that you can discuss any potential effects of the therapy upon treatment.

It’s a good idea to talk to your Doctor before trying any complementary therapy

When choosing a complementary therapy it’s important to think about what you want to get out of it. Do you need help to relax or cope better with stress and tension? Or are there specific side effects of cancer treatment that you would like to alleviate? If you’re not sure which therapy would be suitable for you it’s a good idea to do some research online, check with a local support group, ask your GP, or contact a complementary therapist who specialises in working with cancer patients. If you decide to go ahead it is important that you choose a registered practitioner. Registration is not compulsory for therapists in the UK, however registration means that they reach a national standard of practice. When choosing a therapist it’s important to check a number of things:

*Check the practitioner’s qualifications
*Check if the regulatory body has codes of practice and ethics in place in case you need to make a complaint (CNHC, GMCT, CTHA, GRCCT).
*Check how long the therapist has been practising
*Check what training they have done and experience they have around complementary therapies and cancer
*Check that the therapist has professional indemnity insurance

There are a wide variety of complementary therapies available:

*Massage therapies
*Energy-based therapies
*Mind-body therapies
*Nutritional therapy
*Psychological therapies
*Physical therapies
*Therapies Using Herbs and Plants

Massage Therapies

Massage uses therapeutic touch to relax your mind and body, reduce tension, improve your mood and aids lymphatic drainage. Studies show that massage therapy reduces symptoms such as pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea and depression. Massage can also help the client feel connected emotionally to their body again when medical intervention has caused a feeling of disconnectedness. There are many different types of massage therapy, from relaxing aromatherapy massage to deep tissue massage/sports massage. It’s advisable that cancer patients avoid vigorous, deep tissue massage and try gentle massage instead. There is no evidence that cancer cells are spread as a result of massage. It is important to use a therapist that has had specific training with cancer patients and one who knows that massaging directly over the site of the cancer is to be avoided. Also it is not recommended to apply massage to any bruised areas or any areas affected by radiotherapy (sore, burned or broken skin).


Reflexology is a form of massage based on the theory that there are many pressure points in the feet that correspond with all the systems and organs in the body.  Stimulating those “reflex points” on the feet can stimulate the body to bring balance in that area. As a reflexologist in a busy cancer centre for many years, I used reflexology on patients’ hands and feet for the many benefits that it offers.  Many patients suffer with stress and anxiety during and after treatment and reflexology helps to calm and relax the mind as well as ease any minor aches and pains.  I have found that reflexology ensures the patient has a sound nights sleep for approximately three nights after a reflexology treatment which can be enough for an irregular sleeper or insomniac to break that pattern of interrupted sleep.  It can help to minimise the side-effects of any chemical treatment and to balance out the bowels.  Chemotherapy can have a strange effect on the bowels, making them more or less active than they normally are.  Reflexology can help to calm diarrhoea and relieve constipation.  Some types of chemotherapy can cause numbness and lack of sensation in fingers and toes, along with very dry and split skin.  Regular reflexology massages can help to stimulate the blood supply to those distant areas and the application of a nourishing oil or cream will keep the feet and hands in much better condition.

Energy Therapies

Energy therapies aim to improve your physical and emotional wellbeing by tapping into universal energy. Contact with the body is not always necessary, which can be beneficial if massage is causing discomfort. Reiki is a therapy that originated in Japan, where the therapist channels energy into the patient by working just above the surface of the body. Often the patient feels heat coming from the therapists’ hands, and a strong feeling of relaxation during the treatment and immediately afterwards. It is also possible to have distant Reiki treatments if the therapist you choose is not local to you. There is no medical evidence that energy therapies can treat symptoms of cancer, but they are mainly used to aid relaxation and reduce tension.

Mind-Body Therapies

Mind-body therapies work on the principle that what we think and feel can affect our well-being. You can practice these therapies at home or with a therapist. There are many different types of mind-body therapy:

*Relaxation techniques – reduce stress and anxiety
*Meditation – reduces pain, fear, anxiety, depression
*Visualisation techniques – improves mood
*Hypnotherapy – helps you to make positive lifestyle changes
*Art therapy – helps you let go of difficult feelings
*Music therapy – helps you to express your feelings and reduces pain

Nutritional Therapy

Following a cancer diagnosis you might decide to improve your diet to help you to cope with the effects of treatment and improve your overall wellbeing. You might work with a nutritional therapist to help you to find a diet that suits your needs. Always speak to your doctor before taking supplements as some can affect the way that cancer treatment works.

Psychological Therapies

Often it can be very difficult to speak about how you feel to your close family and friends. Speaking to a therapist or a counsellor can help you to work through difficult feelings. A support group can also help as you can find out how others deal with diagnosis and treatment. Therapeutic techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to deal with negative thoughts and feelings which may affect your everyday life.

Physical Therapies

Physical therapies aim to improve your wellbeing by working on the body and mind. Acupuncture is a traditional form of Chinese Medicine that involves using sterile needles to trigger specific energy points all over the body. It can be used to reduce stress and tension and improve the flow of energy around the body. It has been shown to reduce sickness in cancer patients. Other therapies include Yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These therapies combine breathing exercise with low impact movement, and generally improve wellbeing.

Therapies Using Herbs and Plants

Some common therapies using plant and herb based products include:

*Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils to aid relaxation (can also be used with massage) but check with an aromatherapist before using;
*Flower Remedies – Bach Flower Remedies are thought to promote emotional wellbeing;
*Homeopathy – uses highly diluted solutions of plant and mineral extracts to relieve symptoms and improve wellbeing;
*Herbal medicines – be aware that some herbal treatments can interfere with cancer treatment by making them less effective or increasing side effects. It is advised that herbal treatments are avoided before and after treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

I hope you have found this blog post helpful. In my practice I offer hypnotherapy, Reiki, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and Brain Working Recursive Technique (BWRT). I help people face-to-face and also via Skype. To find out more about the therapies I offer, please click on this link.

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