Do Alternative/Complementary Treatments Work for Cancer Treatment Side-Effects?

These days, walking into any major cancer centre looks rather different to a few years ago, because you are likely to see not only ordinary examination rooms, equipment, and chemotherapy suites, but also massage rooms, yoga mats, and possibly even a music therapy room.

This is the world of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. More and more recent research now supports complementary treatments such as Acupuncture, Yoga, and some diet supplements as good ways to relieve some of the side-effects of Chemotherapy Treatments.

Treatment centres that offer complementary options, as well as the amount of individuals taking advantage of them, have increased dramatically across the globe in recent years, with some studies showing that around 50% of all people undergoing cancer treatment use some kind of complementary option.

Most of the complementary treatments recommended by medical  doctors have few or no side-effects, according to the director of medical content at the American Cancer Society, Ted Gansler, MD, who states that it is fine to try Music Therapy or Meditation, for example, while you follow your standard treatment plan.

The following complementary treatments might help relieve some of the side-effects from Chemotherapy.


Acupuncture is one technique that probably has more research backing it up than any other complementary treatment for cancer, says Jeffrey D. White, MD, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely thin needles into the body at strategic points.  The needles are left in place for a short time and then removed. Acupuncture can help with some physical problems such as pain and nausea. It can also help to reduce symptoms such as anxiety. Scientists think it releases “feel-good” brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.

Getting acupuncture along with their medical treatments seems to do a good job of easing nausea and vomiting, two of the most common side effects of chemo, for many cancer patients, according to Gansler.

While conventional acupuncture can be applied, there is a non-invasive method called Accupressure which works by applying pressure to the Chinese meridian point P6 on the wrist. Accupressure may work better for Children with Cancer.


Dietary Supplements

There is not a lot of evidence to show that supplements work for chemotherapy side-effects, with one possible exception: Ginger.

While it’s not known how ginger might ease nausea, some scientists suspect that certain chemicals found in ginger may influence the nervous system, stomach, and intestines to help reduce nausea.

The largest study to date evaluating the benefits of ginger for patients undergoing chemotherapy, found that as little as one-quarter of a teaspoon of ginger cut symptoms of nausea by 40%.

Another large study found that people with cancer who took 0.5-1 gram of ginger in capsules for 6 days had less nausea and vomiting than people who took a sugar pill.

If you’re considering the use of ginger supplements in the treatment of a health problem (or during chemotherapy), make sure to consult your physician before starting your supplement regimen.



Massage can help relieve the fatigue that chemo causes. It might also improve nausea, anxiety, and pain.

Considering the long history of massage, its incorporation into Western medicine is only in its infancy. The potential for growth and research of the healing properties of therapeutic massage and body work has gained great momentum over the last fifty years, and the public demand for massage therapy is at an all-time high.

In the health care industry, massage is commonly used in hospitals, nursing homes and birthing centers. It is also used in physical therapy and in chiropractic clinics to treat pain, increase circulation and expedite the healing of injured muscles. Massage therapy is one of the most popular complementary therapies used by people living with cancer.

Massage Therapy might not be for everyone who gets chemotherapy, though. If the cancer has spread to the bones, or if the skin is sensitive from radiation treatment, one might end up feeling worse. Massage might also cause bruises if the patient has low levels of platelets in their blood (a common chemo side effect) or if the patient is taking warfarin or another blood thinner.

Remember, ALWAYS check with your child’s doctor before you book an appointment for a massage. Also, seek help from a professional who has special training in working with people who have cancer.


Mind-Body Approaches

Mind-Body Approaches are methods that aim to build the mind’s ability to affect what’s going on in the body. They can include Meditation, Guided Imagery/Visualisation, and Relaxation Therapy, as well as general Stress Management Techniques.

Meditation is a state of deep concentration when you focus your mind on one image, sound or idea, such as a positive thought in order to increase mental awareness and calm your mind and body. The aim is to be aware of thoughts that normally occupy your mind or to experience the sensations that flow through your body and mind.

Guided Imagery is also often referred to as Imagery or Visualisationand is the use of images to assist one to imagine and attain a specific goal. Guided Imagery is based on the premise that the mind and body are connected, and that one can use one’s imagination to influence one’s physical health and sense of well-being. Guided Imagery involves far more than just the visual sense though, which is a good thing as only around 55% of people are strongly wired visually. Guided imagery techniques therefore involve all of the senses.

Relaxation techniques are basically various methods used to focus the attention on calming the mind and relaxing the muscles and include activities such as visualisation exercises, guided imagery, biofeedback, self-hypnosis, progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing exercises. Meditation and practices that include meditation with movement, such as yoga and tai chi, can also promote relaxation. The goal is similar in all; to produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterised by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of increased well-being. Relaxation techniques work very well with children as they are all gentle exercises.


Yoga & Tai Chi

Yoga & Tai Chi are two methods that aim to build the mind’s ability to affect what’s going on in the body. They can include meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation therapy, as well as general stress management techniques.

(pronounced tie chee) is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, focused body movements, meditation and deep breathing.

Originally used for self-defence, it is now practised as a gentle form of exercise, which has been used as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

During a Tai Chi session, one moves slowly from one position to the next without stopping so that your body is in constant motion during the session. Because one must focus on breathing and the movements, tai chi helps focus one’s mind in a form of meditation.

Derived from the Sanskrit word yuj, Yoga means union of the individual consciousness or soul with the Universal Consciousness or Spirit.

Yoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge, and although many individuals think of yoga as merely physical exercise, it is a whole body philosophy that creates harmony between your mind, body and spirit and helps clear and calm your mind.

Yoga teachers promote yoga as a way of staying healthy and preventing illness.

They claim that the postures will stimulate your nervous system, make your muscles and joints more flexible, and relax your mind and body.


Music Therapy

Music Therapy is a fairly new option. It is the use of music by trained professionals to encourage relaxation and enhance quality of life in people receiving health care. The hope is to relieve stress and promote well-being. Some people experience reduction of symptoms and improved healing. If you love listening to music, this therapy might be right for you.

During music therapy, you listen to music or use musical instruments under the guidance of a music therapist. Other types of music therapy include singing and writing songs. Music therapy may be used along with other therapies, such as art therapy.

You don’t need to have any musical ability or experience to benefit from music therapy. It is thought that our brain and body respond naturally to sound, including the rhythm and beat of music.


How to Choose

You should always talk about any complementary treatments for side effects with your child’s oncology team before you try them. They might know which of these methods can help ease your child’s side-effects and which ones might worsen problems, according to Gansler.

When you’re choosing a therapist, check their credentials, experience, and licensing. “You need to find people who have the right kind of training who understand how to use [the therapy] in cancer situations,” White says.



Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use.

LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.

Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.



About LFCT

CHILDHOOD CANCER and CHILDHOOD CANCER AWARENESS Little Fighters Cancer Trust is a non-profit Childhood Cancer support organisation that offers support and aid to Children with Cancer and their families. When a child is diagnosed with cancer it affects the whole family. One of the parents, usually the mother, must give up their job to care for the child and this creates financial problems for the family. In South Africa especially the majority of these families are not well-to-do; many of them are rural. A diagnosis of cancer can wipe out any family’s finances, let alone a poor family. The costs of special medications, special diets, hospital stays, transport to and from the hospital or clinic and accommodation and food costs for the mother who spends most of the time at her child’s bedside are astronomical. These are the people and problems that fall through the cracks, and these are the people that Little Fighters Cancer Trust has pledged to help in any way possible. LFCT takes a holistic approach to assisting the Children with Cancer and their Families, with the main aim to be the preservation of individual dignity and pride. Little Fighters Cancer Trust also focuses on promotion and advocacy of National Childhood Cancer Awareness in an effort to increase awareness of Early Warning Signs of Childhood Cancer. This would result in earlier diagnosis, giving the Child with Cancer more of a chance at Treatment and Survival. See "About" for more Background info

Posted on 17 July, 2017, in Alternative Treatments, Blog, Cancer Treatments, Side Effects and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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