Complementary therapies and cancer

Published: 18 Mar 2020

Complementary Therapy Week runs from 23rd to 29th March in the UK this year. But no matter where you are in the world, alternative therapies are becoming more and more popular.  

Complementary therapy is intended to help balance the whole person physically, mentally, and emotionally. Many people diagnosed with cancer use complementary therapies to relieve symptoms and help ease the side effects of treatment. They should be used along alongside conventional medicine, not in place of it.

There are literally hundreds of complementary therapies to choose from. All work in different ways to ease and improve your wellbeing before, during and after treatment.  It is a very personal choice, you may want to try out a few to find out which ones you feel comfortable with.  In all cases, before trying anything new, check with your medical team first to make sure it isn’t going to conflict with your treatment.


Acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release natural painkillers and immune system cells. These travel to weakened areas of the body and relieve symptoms. Hair thin sterile needles are inserted into specific points on the body, called "acupuncture points," and then gently moved. It is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine and is believed to have originated around 100 BC. Its properties are now recognised world-wide and is practised by some mainstream medical practitioners.  It can help to:

Chiropractic Therapy

Chiropractic therapy is used to treat musculoskeletal conditions — problems with the muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. It focuses on the relationship between the body's structure and the body's function. Chiropractors use a type of hands-on therapy called manipulation (or adjustment).

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, chiropractic care as a complimentary health service during cancer treatments and can help the following:


During hypnosis, your hypnotherapist leads you into a deeply relaxed state whereby you feel separate from, but still aware of what’s going on around you. Your therapist will use suggestion to help you in different ways, such as to gain control over certain symptoms or change some behaviours that you want to change. For hypnosis to be helpful you need to be comfortable with the idea of being hypnotized and you have to trust your hypnotherapist. Hypnosis has been shown to help reduce:


Massage therapy is manual manipulation of soft body tissues (muscle, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments) to enhance a person's health and well-being. There are many types of massage from reflexology, aromatherapy to a more rigorous sports massage. But a light, relaxing massage can safely be given to people at all stages of cancer, although tumour or treatment sites should not be massaged to avoid discomfort or pressure on the affected area and underlying organs. 

Some people worry that massage can spread cancer cells throughout the body via the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system and consists of a network of vessels, organs and nodes through which lymphatic fluid (lymph) flows. The circulation of lymph – from massage or other movement – does not cause cancer to spread. 
Scientific studies have shown that massage may help to reduce:


People practise meditation to help their minds and bodies become calm and relaxed. Regular meditation can give clarity, insight, and peace of mind, which may improve your wellbeing and health.   People’s perception of meditation is sitting cross legged on the floor and chanting, but this is rarely the case. Meditation can be practised anywhere – it often involves focusing on a sensation such as your breathing - simply observing the sensation without judging or analyzing.  Meditation may also have specific benefits for people who are living with cancer including:

Tai Chi

Originally developed as a martial art nearly 2000 years ago, Tai Chi is a "moving meditation" in which participants perform a series of slow, graceful motions that often resemble movements in nature. Individuals concentrate on deep breathing and precise posture, which helps to relax the mind and strengthen the body.  Cancer patients are often confronted by messages telling them to fight cancer, but Tai chi teaches people to respond peacefully and mindfully to forces outside of their control.

Recent studies have indicated that Tai Chi:


Yoga is a whole-body philosophy that started over 5,000 years ago in India. There are many different types of yoga and you’ll need to find a class that suits you.   All yoga styles create a feeling of lightness, ease and relaxation but some focus on increasing flexibility, others on strength and fitness, some on body alignment and others focus on breathing and meditation.

As the interest in more holistic approaches to healing grows, yoga therapy for cancer patients and cancer survivors is emerging as one of the recommended methods for combating the physical discomfort of cancer and cancer treatment. So how does it help? It creates harmony between your mind, body and spirit to help clear and calm your mind, so you are better equipped to cope with cancer and its treatment 

Want to find out more.  Join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group to share your experiences and ask others what’s working for them.

Penguin Cold Cap Therapy

Penguin Cold Caps are the original inventors of modern cold cap therapy; the drug-free, non-invasive and most successful method for reducing chemotherapy-induced hair loss. 

To find out more visit