How can Complementary Therapy Help Breast Cancer Patients?

How can Complementary Therapy Help Breast Cancer Patients?

Receiving treatment for Breast Cancer doesn’t end once the initial treatments and surgeries have been carried out.  Many patients receive additional medical therapies and drugs.  Unfortunately, drugs such as tamoxifen and raloxifene have side effects that include hot flashes, night sweats, leg cramps and a small risk of uterine cancer, blood clots, stroke & liver problems to name just a few. 

It’s therefore not surprising that many patients and their doctors look toward complementary medicine to help alleviate disease symptoms and side-effects.

Black Cohash is a herb from the buttercup family and used originally by Native Americans to treat menopausal symptoms.  There is scientific data available which supports it’s use for protective purposes in Breast Cancer survivors as well as those who do not have the disease but need to treat symptoms of menopause. 

Iyengar Yoga is a form of Hatha Yoga that involves breath control and body postures that has Yoga been found to help prevent fatigue in Breast Cancer survivors.  A study funded by the National Centre for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) involved 2 groups of patients.  One group of patients received 90 minute Iyengar Yoga classes twice a week and the other group received health education classes consisting of a series of lectures on topics such as cancer-related fatigue & psychosocial issues in cancer survivorship.  After 12 weeks the yoga group reported significant improvements in fatigue severity compared to the health education group.  They were also able to report an improvement in energy & vigor levels.  Both groups said that they had noticed a decline in depressive symptoms and perceived stress but neither group reported any change in sleep or physical performance.  However, it was noted that much more research is required due to the controls groups being of such small sizes and that the yoga group had more hours than the education group (36-24).

Hypnosis is much more widely accepted these days for a variety of health and psychological conditions.  Hot flashes are common in menopausal women & as a side-effect of treatment for breast cancer.  They can cause disruption to sleep, anxiety and a decrease of quality of life.  Whilst the hormone oestrogen can be used as a remedy it’s use carries an increased risk of Breast Cancer, which is why it isn’t given to Breast Cancer survivors.

The NCCAM funded a study of 60 women who were given hypnosis in weekly 50 minute sessions, with further at-home instructions to conduct between their sessions.  Another group of women were given no hypnosis treatment at all.  Each group of women consisted of those with a history Breast Cancer and those with no current evidence of the disease.  All had to experience at least 14 hot flashes per work over a one month period.

The results indicated that the hypnosis group of Breast Cancer survivors had a 68% perceived reduction of hot flashes and received additional benefits that included improved mood and sleep.  

There is clearly a need for further research and trials continue as self hypnosis and empathic attention also appear to help those requiring large core needle breast biopsies.  These therapies appear to help with the anxiety and pain that patients experience during the procedure.

W53130_01_140_140 Acupuncture – there is now substantial evidence that acupuncture can help reduce nausea and vomiting in cancer patients.  Complications from acupuncture are very rare so long as the acupuncturist uses sterile needles and appropriate high levels of hygiene and care.  As chemotherapy weakens the body’s immune system, it is imperative to adhere to these core principals of professional acupuncture.

Massage Therapy can help to relieve pain, nausea, anxiety and depression.  Those with advanced cancer can experience pain and emotional distress leading to loss of function and quality of life.  Symptom relief is an important part of end-of-life care.  An NCCAM study at 15 US hospices included 380 patients with advanced cancer who experienced moderate to severe pain.  30 minutes of Massage Therapy, or Simple Touch Therapy, over 2 weeks periods resulted in both forms of therapy achieving significant improvements in patients, although much greater results were achieved with Massage Therapy.

Which complementary therapies have you found to be most beneficial to your patients?  Many people are much more receptive to the benefits of therapy but have you found that open-mindedness has helped you to offer a more comprehensive range of treatments to those suffering post-cancer diagnosis? 


Manual therapies can help to improve our lives, strengthen our bodies and improve quality of life.  

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