The National Cancer Institute defines Complementary Therapies as “treatments used along with standard medical treatments, but are not considered as standard treatments”.
Generally, standard medical treatments include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormonal therapies, or targeted therapies. Complementary Therapies are used in addition to conventional treatment to reinforce the immune system, relieve symptoms, and enhance the effectiveness of conventional therapies.
The following examples of complimentary therapies have at least a moderate level of evidence of symptom relief as reported by credible sources such as Cancer Council Victoria, or Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre:
Acupuncture: An ancient form of Chinese medicine, this therapy uses thin, solid needles inserted at discrete points and regions on the body. Can reduce nausea and pain.
Relaxation therapy, Yoga and meditation: Used by many people to reduce stress and tension in their every day lives. Can improve sleep, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue and muscle wasting.
Art and Music therapy: Can aid focused attention which aids relaxation, pain reduction and the expression of feelings.
Massage: Can help reduce pain, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, depression and nausea.
Reflexology: a foot massage that “promotes wellness in other areas of the body”. Can reduce anxiety and pain and help improve quality of life particularly in palliative care patients.
Aromatherapy: the “therapeutic use of essential oils” to “bring about physiological and emotional changes”. Can improve sleep and aid relaxation and improve quality of life particularly in palliative care patients.
Tai chi: Can relieve pain, improve flexibility and strength and reduces stress.
Support group programs: peer groups or one-to-one support – often talking about the issues relieves much of the stress associated as does being part of a larger group.
Pilates, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais: While studies with cancer patients are limited, these forms of practitioner led active exercise are generally considered to be beneficial for improving breathing, strength, flexibility, mobility, fitness and general wellbeing.
Visualisation or Guided Imagery: Tapes, scripts, or an instructor “guide the imagination toward a relaxed, focused state” – claimed to control some symptoms caused by cancer or cancer treatments. Can help reduce pain and anxiety, nausea and vomiting.
Counseling, Prayer and Meditation: used in management of pain, stress and self-esteem.