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Complementary therapies

What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are the wide range of therapies that can be used alongside recommended conventional treatment options, and you might find these beneficial. Before starting some of these therapies it’s essential you talk to your specialist team to discuss any possible harmful effects.

What are conventional medical treatments?

These are therapies carried out by doctors to treat breast cancer. These treatments have been scientifically researched and proven to help in the management of breast cancer. They may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone or targeted therapy.

What are alternative therapies?

These are treatments used instead of the recommendations from your specialist team. These therapies have not been scientifically proven to successfully treat breast cancer.

There are many forms of complementary therapies, some of them include:

  • Acupuncture

    has been shown to help relieve fatigue, hot flushes, nausea, vomiting, and pain.

    Much research is being done on how acupuncture can help relieve some of the symptoms of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment.

  • Ginger has been shown to relieve nausea for many people.
  • Mindfulness studies have shown this can help to increase relaxation and self-awareness and reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Meditation can enable you to relax and remain positive and focused on your recovery. It can also help decrease your treatment side-effects, such as nausea and pain.
  • Yoga & Tai Chi incorporates slow graceful movements with meditation and breathing techniques, this can help to increase strength and balance, heart and lung function and feelings of wellbeing.
  • Massage is a hands on approach to stimulate the soft tissue of the body. It can be light, concentrating on the skin, or deep, reaching the layers of muscle. Massage has been found to be helpful with pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety.
  • Music and writing can help you express your emotions, replace depressed feelings with positivity and overcome fears that could otherwise impede your ability to communicate and make decisions.
  • Humour is everyone’s best friend, especially at times like this. Building your own ‘humour library’ and stimulating laughter can raise your spirits, help you face procedures, and enable you to access and express your emotions if they are stifled.
  • Affirmations and goal setting can focus your mind on favourable outcomes and in a very real sense sustain your hope and faith.
  • Social support networks such as peer networking, or spending time with your good friends between treatments, can help you feel ‘normal’ again, provide some respite from the rigours of hospital stays and help with problem-solving and decision-making.

Further Reading

Complementary Therapies for Cancer by Professor Shaun Holt contains evidence-based advice on many complementary therapies such as acupuncture, massage and mind- body interventions like meditation, yoga and hypnosis. It examines the effectiveness of herbal remedies including St John’s Wort and ginger, and examines many commonly-used therapies which are unlikely to help, or can even cause harm.

Listen to Professor Shaun Holt talk about complementary therapies on Radio NZ

Phil Kerslake, author of Life, Happiness…..& Cancer shares some insights into how to practice self-care when dealing with the stress and anxieties that often accompany cancer. These are suggested as a complementary therapy to medical treatments. For more tips visit Phil Kerslake’s website.