6. Complementary Therapies For Cancer


Including complementary supportive modalities in a comprehensive approach to address cancer can improve effectiveness of treatment and facilitate healing on all levels: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

Many people experience improved wellbeing, stress reduction, and relief of symptoms and treatment side effects when using complementary therapies. In addition, physical symptoms that occur with treatment can be easier to bear when targeted with integrative therapies like bodywork and mind-body techniques including meditation, massage, acupuncture, or yoga.

The following are some examples of complementary therapies that may be useful to you during cancer treatment or recovery.

Please note that the following resources are provided for your information and convenience only. It is important that you learn about a provider’s training and licensure before choosing any complementary treatment. Certain therapies are contraindicated with traditional treatment or for people with cancer, so please communicate with your physician about any new treatments or therapies you are considering.

Also check out Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies for scientifically driven information on the best integrative approaches to cancer diagnosis and treatment that go beyond conventional cancer care.


Acupuncture is often sought by those undergoing conventional cancer treatment to lessen side effects, including nausea and fatigue. It can be a useful adjunct to pain medication and some evidence points to increased immune function. Patients report improved sleep, digestion, and appetite.

Bodywork & Oncology Massage

There are many forms of bodywork, each with its own benefits. Here is a breakdown of several of them:

  • Alexander Technique is used in stress management and is known to decrease muscle strain, nerve and chronic pain, fatigue, and post-surgical weakness.
  • Craniosacral Therapy is used to treat nervous dysfunction, structural misalignment, muscle tension and injuries, as well decreasing both physical and psychological/emotional trauma.
  • Massage can provide an emotional lift, reduce muscular pain, decrease anxiety, sooth tension, and improve circulation, breathing, posture, and motion.
  • Polarity Therapy offers emotional and physical release of energy, improves circulation, soothes the nervous system and relieves pain and stiffness. It also is known to increase overall energy, flexibility, and clarity.
  • Rolfing improves breathing, mobility, energy and posture as well as decreasing stress, chronic pain, and stiffness.
  • Shiatsu reduces stiffness, pain, fatigue and stress, while improving energy, restful sleep, and overall feelings of well-being.

[Note: Concern has been expressed over the use of vigorous bodywork in the presence of metastatic disease. Please consult with your oncologist prior to starting any bodywork.

Learn more at the American Massage Therapy Association


Naturopathy focuses considerable attention on nutrition to improve immune function and strengthen the body; can help reduce the side effects of treatment; relieves the burden of minor illnesses and can relieve depression and anxiety.

Learn more at American Association of Naturopathic Physicians

Reiki & Energy Healing

Reiki is one form of energy healing, along with healing touch, therapeutic touch, Barbara Brennan Energy Healing and others. Anecdotal reports credit this modality with decreasing stress and anxiety, reducing fatigue, increasing stamina and deepening emotional and spiritual growth. It’s also reported to aid in the recovery of emotional and physical trauma and may minimize the side effects of conventional cancer treatments.

Learn more at The International Center for Reiki Training

Yoga, Meditation, QiGong & Tai Chi

In general, these practices can improve relaxation and reduce stress; ease anxiety and depression; support the immune system, decrease pain; improve alignment, circulation and flexibility; and lower heart and respiration rates.

You can learn more about complementary therapies at National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine 

With thanks to Carole O’Toole, Director of Smith Center’s Institute of Integrative Oncology Navigation, for permission to use information from her book, Healing Outside the Margins (LifeLine Press, 2002, Carolyn B. Hendricks, M.D., Medical Advisor)

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