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What are Complementary Therapies and What Can They Do for Cancer Patients?

March 8, 2018

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Complementary therapies are products and/or practices that differ from standard medical care provided by your oncologists. These non-traditional methods are in no way meant to replace cancer treatment. They’re called complementary because they are meant to work alongside your cancer treatment in hopes of relieving symptoms and side effects, relieving pain, and improving quality of life.

Complementary therapies typically concentrate on relaxation and reducing stress. Many of these types of therapies may help calm emotions, relieve anxiety, reduce nausea, minimize pain, provide extra energy, and increase overall health and well being.

Many cancer patients feel as though complementary therapies leave them with a little more control over their health as they go through cancer treatment. They also tend to appreciate that complementary therapies do not require additional medicines. When the symptoms and side effects of your cancer treatment are difficult to cope with, these alternative approaches can be supportive in bringing relief. Before adding any complementary therapy to your current treatment, however, it is important to talk with your cancer specialist.

There are many different types of complementary therapy. Be sure to tell your therapist or instructor that you are a cancer patient before you start any complementary therapy. This is important information that could impact what they recommend for you.

Complementary therapies include, but are not limited to:

  • Aromatherapy and Essential Oils: The use of essential oils either by inhalation or topical application. Oils can aid in reducing anxiety, nausea, depression, and pain. Be sure you receive instruction before applying any oils to your skin.
  • Acupuncture: The practice of applying needles, heat, pressure, and other treatments to one or more places on the skin known as acupuncture points. It can be effective for cancer treatment side effects such as nausea and vomiting, pain, and fatigue.
  • Chiropractic: A chiropractor can provide hands-on manipulation of the spine (adjustment) that can help with stresses cancer treatment has put on the musculoskeletal system, which can increase mobility, flexibility, strength, and function. It may also help relieve nausea, fatigue, headaches, and other body pains in the back and neck area.
  • Herbal supplements: May help strengthen the immune system and ease the side effects of cancer treatment. These can interact with medicines being used for cancer treatment and should always be discussed with your cancer care team before using.
  • Massage therapy: A hands-on method of manipulating the soft tissues of the body that can promote relaxation and help with pain, fatigue, immune function.
  • Guided Imagery (Visualization): A technique that focuses and directs the imagination toward a specific goal. Practicing this may be able to reduce feelings of depression and increase feelings of well-being. The University of Michigan provides a free guided imagery audio library.
  • Art or music therapy: Creative arts that promote a better quality of life by aiding in the reduction of depression, anxiety, and pain. It can also be a positive outlet for emotional expression.
  • Yoga: Yoga connects the mind and body through movement and meditation. Yoga can help improve quality of life by relieving both physical and emotional stress.
  • Support groups: Group meetings can help cancer patients cope. Having emotional support can help improve both quality of life and survival.

In most cases, cancer doctors are very supportive of their patients using complementary therapies. This is typically because they have seen people cope better with the cancer and its treatment.

Again, it isn’t recommended that complementary therapies replace cancer treatment. They are simply meant to be used in conjunction with the current cancer treatment. Talking with your cancer specialist can help find the right balance between the complementary therapies and traditional treatments you are receiving for your cancer. Our oncologist at Maryland Oncology Hematology are able to talk you through these complementary cancer therapies, as well as additional methods of therapy that may be best for your cancer care. If you are in Maryland or the Washington D.C. area, you can schedule a consultation by picking the Maryland Oncology Hematology location that's most convenient to you and calling to make an appointment.

 

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Topics: cancer management