Terms applied to therapies not commonly included in mainstream medicine have repeatedly changed over time, evolving from a very negative “quackery” through “unorthodox,” “unconventional,” “questionable,” “unproven,” and “alternative.”
Current, but still evolving, terminology favours “complementary” and “alternative” medicine, or the acronym of both: CAM.
To understand how a complementary therapy may be used, it helps to understand what we mean by conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies.
Conventional cancer treatments or mainstream cancer treatments are the treatments currently accepted and widely used in the majority of healthcare systems and include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
Complementary Therapies are used as adjuncts to (together with) mainstream cancer care. They are supportive measures that control symptoms, enhance well-being, and contribute to overall patient care.
Alternative Therapies typically are promoted for use instead of mainstream treatment. Approaches that may be offered as alternative therapies range from visualisation to diet and prayer, and products such as vitamin supplements, herbal and homeopathic medicines.
Integrative Cancer Care is an approach that combines conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies throughout the cancer journey. It’s based on the idea that as long as you’re watched carefully for what happens when the treatments are given at the same time, conventional cancer treatments and complementary therapies can work well together.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following Alternative or Complementary cancer treatments have shown some promise in helping people with cancer.
Speak to your oncologist if you’re interested and before you try any of them.
During acupuncture treatment, a practitioner inserts tiny needles into your skin at precise points. Studies show acupuncture may be helpful in relieving nausea caused by chemotherapy. Acupuncture may also help relieve certain types of pain in people with cancer.
Acupuncture is safe if it’s performed by a licensed practitioner using sterile needles. Ask your doctor for names of trusted practitioners. Acupuncture isn’t safe if you’re taking blood thinners or if you have low blood counts, so check with your doctor first.
Aromatherapy uses fragrant oils to provide a calming sensation. Oils, infused with scents such as lavender, can be applied to your skin during a massage, or the oils can be added to bath water. Fragrant oils can also be heated to release their scents into the air. Aromatherapy may be helpful in relieving nausea, pain and stress.
Aromatherapy can be performed by a practitioner, or you can use aromatherapy on your own. Aromatherapy is safe, though oils applied to your skin can cause allergic reactions. People with cancer that is oestrogen sensitive, such as some breast cancers, should avoid applying large amounts of lavender oil and tea tree oil to the skin.
Art Therapy, also known as Creative Arts Therapy or Expressive Arts Therapy is a healing modality based on the premise that the integration of art into the healing process can be emotionally restorative and can serve as an outlet for the expression of all the emotions a diagnosis like cancer brings.
Young children with cancer have so much to face, dealing with extra-ordinary challenges every day such as various medical procedures such as MRIs, X-Rays, Catheters, Transfusions, Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiation, and the side-effects of those treatments. They also lose a big part of their childhood as they have to give up many things most kids take for granted.
Biofeedback, also known as Neurofeedback, EEG Biofeedback, NF and NFB is a medically approved, non-invasive, drug-free form of brain self-regulation that improves the central nervous system by training the brain to operate at an optimal level.
Biofeedback is a treatment method that uses monitoring devices to help people gain conscious control over physical processes that are usually controlled automatically, such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, sweating, and muscle tension.
Exercise may help you manage signs and symptoms during and after cancer treatment. Gentle exercise may help relieve fatigue and stress and help you sleep better. Many studies now show that an exercise program may help people with cancer live longer and improve their overall quality of life.
If you haven’t already been exercising regularly, check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program. Start slowly, adding more exercise as you go. Aim to work your way up to at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Labyrinth walking involves a meditative walk along a set circular pathway that goes to the center and comes back out. Labyrinths can also be “walked” online or on a grooved board following the curved path with a finger.
Possibility, peace, compassion, fulfillment: those are words people use to describe their feelings after they’ve walked a labyrinth. The ancient meditative practice is gaining popularity in modern times and is being applied in health care settings to promote well-being.
Unlike mazes, which are designed to confuse users, labyrinths consist of a single path that winds its way from the outside of the circle to the centre and back out again. Not only are they being used to complement traditional cancer treatment, but they are also a supportive measure for family members and caregivers.
Hypnotherapy is a deep state of concentration. During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist may hypnotise you by talking in a gentle voice and helping you relax.
The therapist will then help you focus on goals, such as controlling your pain and reducing your stress.
Hypnosis may be helpful for people with cancer who are experiencing anxiety, pain and stress. It may also help prevent anticipatory nausea and vomiting that can occur if chemotherapy has made you sick in the past. When performed by a certified therapist, hypnosis is safe, but do tell your therapist if you have any history of mental illness.
During massage therapy, your practitioner kneads your skin, muscles and tendons in an effort to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation.
Several massage methods exist. Massage can be light and gentle, or it can be deep with more pressure.
Studies have found massage can be helpful in relieving pain in people with cancer. It may also help relieve anxiety, fatigue and stress.
Massage can be safe if you work with a knowledgeable massage therapist. Many cancer centers have massage therapists on staff, or your doctor can refer you to a massage therapist who regularly works with people who have cancer.
Don’t have a massage if your blood counts are very low. Ask the massage therapist to avoid massaging near surgical scars, radiation treatment areas or tumors. If you have cancer in your bones or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, ask the massage therapist to use light pressure, rather than deep massage.
Meditation is a state of deep concentration when you focus your mind on one image, sound or idea, such as a positive thought.
When meditating, you might also do deep-breathing or relaxation exercises.
Meditation may help people with cancer by relieving anxiety and stress.
Meditation is generally safe. You can meditate on your own for a few minutes once or twice a day or you can take a class with an instructor.
During music therapy sessions, you might listen to music, play instruments, sing songs or write lyrics.
A trained music therapist may lead you through activities designed to meet your specific needs, or you may participate in music therapy in a group setting. Music therapy may help relieve pain and control nausea and vomiting.
Music therapy is safe and doesn’t require any musical talent to participate. Many medical centers have certified music therapists on staff.
Relaxation techniques are ways of focusing your attention on calming your mind and relaxing your muscles. Relaxation techniques might include activities such as visualization exercises or progressive muscle relaxation.
Relaxation techniques may be helpful in relieving anxiety and fatigue. They may also help people with cancer sleep better.
Relaxation techniques are safe. Typically a therapist leads you through these exercises and eventually you may be able to do them on your own or with the help of guided relaxation recordings.
Tai chi is a form of exercise that incorporates gentle movements and deep breathing.
Tai chi can be led by an instructor, or you can learn tai chi on your own following books or videos. Practicing tai chi may help relieve stress.
Tai chi is generally safe. The slow movements of tai chi don’t require great physical strength, and the exercises can be easily adapted to your own abilities. Still, talk to your doctor before beginning tai chi. Don’t do any tai chi moves that cause pain.
Yoga combines stretching exercises with deep breathing. During a yoga session, you position your body in various poses that require bending, twisting and stretching. There are many types of yoga, each with its own variations.
Yoga may provide some stress relief for people with cancer. Yoga has also been shown to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.
Before beginning a yoga class, ask your doctor to recommend an instructor who regularly works with people with health concerns, such as cancer. Avoid yoga poses that cause pain. A good instructor can give you alternative poses that are safe for you.
You may find some alternative treatments work well together. For instance, deep breathing during a massage may provide further stress relief.
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.