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11 Ways to Find Balance With Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies are becoming standard for cancer care, helping in pain management and restoring balance.

In the field of oncology, the primary focus is killing cancer. Doctors can become so focused on this ultimate goal and restoring health that they sometimes lose sight of other, more immediate, patient needs. It’s a comfort that your doctor is determined to beat your cancer, and it's okay for you to explore alternative pain and relaxation solutions to manage the side effects of your therapy.

Research now supports the use of complementary therapies. These are whole-person therapies that can restore balance and ease discomfort, while enabling conventional treatments to relentlessly attack your cancer.

Though you should always talk with your doctor before making changes to your care plan, many doctors today not only accept complementary care, they outright encourage it.

Exploring Complementary Therapies for the Body, Mind and Spirit

Body

  • YogaYoga is cheap, has little chance of side effects and has fared well in scientific studies that measured its value during active treatment. A 2012 review, published in BMC Cancer, concluded breast cancer patients who practiced yoga reported better short-term quality of life and improvement in anxiety, depression and stress.
  • Acupuncture. There’s strong evidence supporting acupuncture as a good source of nausea relief. A recent analysis of nearly 18,000 participants in 29 randomized trials has shown the age-old therapy can also be effective for treating chronic pain. With moderate cost and minimal side effects, acupuncture can be an attractive option to consider.  
  • Nutrition and Exercise. Studies have found patients who exercise during and after treatment—and maintain a healthy body weight—tend to recover faster, feel stronger and even live longer.
  • Massage. Research has shown massage can lower pain, nausea and fatigue, as well as emotional and physical discomfort. Furthermore, a 2010 study in the journal Supportive Care in Cancer found massage therapy reduced depression and anxiety. 

Mind

  • DistractionDistraction is effective in calming the nerves and relieving stress. Binge watch episodes of a new TV show, lose yourself in a good book or explore a place you’ve never been. In other words, immerse yourself in something that will require your complete attention.
  • Imagery. According to a study presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, guided imagery decreased stress and relieved anxiety in patients who used the technique before and after radiation therapy for breast cancer.  
  • Music Therapy. Music isn't just enjoyable to the ears. According to a review published by the Cochrane Collaboration, it's an effective method to relieve pain, improve mood and decrease the anxiety of cancer treatment.
  • Hypnosis. Hypnotherapy has been recognized as a valid medical procedure for patients since 1958 by both the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. Hypnotherapy also gained credibility when the National Institutes of Health recommended it for chronic pain relief in 1995. Since then, dozens of studies have suggested medical hypnosis has the ability to decrease illness-related anxiety, fatigue, pain and depression.

Spirit

  • Prayer. Recent studies showed a majority of patients include prayer in their care plans. A study, published in 2007 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, revealed cancer survivors are more likely to engage in prayer than those without a chronic illness.
  • Meditation. Just like exercise trains the body, the goal of meditation is to train the mind. It’s an inexpensive form of relaxation, known to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. 
  • Support Groups. Whether you’re connecting in person, on the phone or online, support groups can be tremendously beneficial. You can discuss how you’re feeling, successes during treatment, questions to ask your doctor and other ways of coping with anxiety and depression. You can even share things that have nothing to do with cancer! 

Though vitamins and herbal supplements are among the most common forms of complementary therapy for people with a chronic illness, doctors have difficulty endorsing them beyond a plain multivitamin. Supplements can be risky, due to their numerous biologic effects.

In addition to their low-to-medium cost, the complimentary treatments above give you more choices and strategies for care, which may help restore a feeling of control. It’s estimated, as much as 90 percent of patients include complementary therapy in their cancer treatments today, compared to just nine percent in 1992. Go ahead and give them a try if your doctor approves!