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Complementary cancer therapies

Complementary cancer therapy can help you to feel better, cope with your symptoms and feel more in control.

Some people find complementary therapy a helpful extra alongside other conventional cancer treatments like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, targeted therapies or hormone therapy.

Complementary therapy can help you to feel better, cope with your symptoms and feel more in control. Up to one in three people with cancer will use complementary therapy at some point. Some people find it’s something they feel they can do to help themselves.

It’s different to alternative therapy. Alternative therapy is used instead of conventional medicine. Some alternative therapists will claim that alternative therapy can cure cancer. There is no scientific or medical evidence that this is true.

Types of complementary therapy

Currently, there’s little research about how complementary therapy helps with some symptoms, but more evidence is being collected in favour of its benefits. Even without scientific proof, many people with cancer say they find complementary therapy helpful.

There are many types of complementary therapy. You should talk about your therapy options with your treatment nurse or complementary therapist before you start any complementary therapy. Not all therapies will be suitable, especially if you’re very weak, still having conventional therapy or have other health problems.

Some of the most common types of complementary therapy are:


In acupuncture, between four and ten fine needles are put under the skin at certain points on your body. During the treatment, the acupuncturist might turn or flick them to help them work. Then after 20 to 30 minutes, they’re taken out. It is believed that acupuncture can help with some side effects of cancer like pain by stimulating your nerves to release feel-good chemicals like endorphins and serotonin.


Aromatherapy uses essential oils from plants like lavender, jasmine, eucalyptus, ylang ylang and peppermint to help relieve stress, improve wellbeing or to feel refreshed. It is thought that aromatherapy can help to boost your immune system, improve circulation and aid headaches and digestion. Others find breathing the aroma of oils like ginger and peppermint help to settle their stomach if they feel nauseous after treatments like chemotherapy. Usually, an aromatherapist will massage the oils into your body, although you can also burn essential oils at home or put them in your bath.

Massage therapy

Massage therapy aims to relax your mind and body by putting different pressure on your muscles or acupuncture points. Sometimes, it’ll be gentle. Other times your massage therapist will use more pressure. It is believed that massage can help to stimulate your circulation, relax your muscles, cope with stress and anxiety or relieve pain. It can also help to improve your mood, sleep patterns and wellbeing.


Reflexology is one of the most popular complementary therapies for people with cancer. It can help people to relax, cope with pain and feel more positive. Some people also think reflexology has other benefits too, like boosting the immune system, helping with digestive problems and fighting off colds and infections. By pressing and massaging different parts of your hands and feet, reflexologists believe that corresponding body parts are stimulated and the healing process started. For example, it is thought rubbing the palm of your right hand is said to help stimulate your liver.


Yoga is thousands of years old and can help your whole body. It involves breathing, body and mind exercises like meditation. Together, these exercises can help to relieve stress and focus you. Many people with cancer choose to use yoga has a complementary therapy purely because it makes them feel good. But yoga teachers also claim that with the right techniques, yoga can help to stimulate your nervous system, improve flexibility, and blood and oxygen supply.

Paying for your treatment

You have two options to pay for your treatment – your costs may be covered by your private medical insurance, or you can pay for yourself. If you are paying for your own treatment the cost of the procedure will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book.

For further information or to book a consultation or treatment, please get in touch with our cancer enquiries team: Call us on 0800 157 7747

Content reviewed: October 2014

Specialists offering Complementary cancer therapies

Dr Venkat Mahesh

Consultant Gastroenterologist

MBBS, MRCP, FEBGH, PGDip (Clin.Nutr), PGCert (Med.Ed)

The Beaumont Hospital

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Mr Arunmoy Chakravorty

Consultant Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon


Bishops Wood Hospital

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