Complementary therapies for reducing pain in cancer patients

Complementary therapies for reducing pain in cancer patients

In the past few years, the survival rates of cancer patients are rising because of multimodal treatments of cancer. The novel techniques or ways of treatment had switched the disease paradigm from fatal to chronic illness. During illness, a cancer patient experiences various symptoms like anxiety, pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression, nausea, vomiting and lymphedema.

Patients prefer to adhere to the treatment which improves their quality of life along with proper treatment. The use of complementary therapies (CTs) can significantly help to enhance the quality of life and overall health in both cancer patients and the general population.

According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, "Complementary therapies are those orthodox therapies used along with mainstream treatment to improve the emotional and psychological well-being via relieving the symptoms. These therapies are effective, safe and free of side effects.

Over the past two decades, CTs have been used together with palliative care as holistic and intended patient care. So, you can say that these therapies focus on pain management and improve overall treatment outcomes while reducing the need for medications.

Do you want to know what types of complementary therapies are effective and can be used? Let's read in little detail about such treatments:

Types of complementary therapies

According to the National Institute of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), complementary therapies can be divided into five classes:

1 Mind-Body Medicine

These therapies emphasize the interaction between body, brain, mind, and behaviour to magnify the mind's capacity to reduce symptoms and enhance the body's functions. These involve both movement and concentration based therapies.

Mind-Body Medicine Therapies -

Life coaching, art therapy, counseling, mindfulness meditation, laughter yoga, music therapy, hypnotherapy, support groups, spiritual practices, relaxation and meditation.

2 Natural Product-Based Therapies

These CTs practices involve herbal formulations, whole diets, functional foods, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and other natural products. Many of these are sold as OTC (over the counter) dietary supplements.

Other than this, these also include probiotics. These live microorganisms have beneficial effects like improving the overall digestive system, strengthening immunity, and reducing inflammation and allergies. Probiotics are present in both foods (curd/yoghurt) and dietary supplements.

3 Manipulative and Body-Based Practices

These are the practices that help to manipulate or move one or more body parts of the patient. These therapies can manage symptoms like anxiety, pain, depression, stress and improve general well-being.

These include aromatherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, qi gong, reflexology, yoga, tai chi and exercise techniques.

4 Energy Medicine

Energy medicine, also known as biofield therapy, is based on the belief that the body contains energy fields that can be utilized for overall well-being and healing. Therapists move the body or use pressure by using their hands through these fields to correct the problems. These practices involve practices like therapeutic touch or reiki.

5 Whole Medical Systems

These include all healing systems which have been evolved in various parts of the world. These include Ayurvedic medicine, Homeopathy, naturopathic medicine and traditional chinese medicine.

Why should people try complementary therapies?

The complementary therapies are effective in terms of:

  • Improving the quality of life
  • Managing the conventional treatment-associated side effects
  • Reducing the cancer-associated symptoms
  • Boosting immunity of the body
  • Ameliorating overall well-being of the person

Which complementary therapies work and are safe?

The next question which is essential to solve is how safe and workable these therapies are? Many complementary therapies are found to be safe and effective, along with conventional medicines to treat cancer. These therapies are acupuncture, aromatherapy, exercise, counseling, support groups, music therapy, art therapies, qi gong, yoga, meditation, relaxation therapies, mindfulness and massage.

However, some therapies like dietary supplements or reiki can be proven to be wrong as well. These can change the way conventional treatments work or stop them from working. These should always be done or adopted under proper consultation.

Is it essential to see a professional for practicing complementary therapies?

It is essential to consult and tell your doctor about such therapies before practicing. Doctors can suggest you a better way about these therapies. Don't try it yourself, and always consult a practitioner registered with a professional association or a governing body.

Seeing a complementary professional therapist will be beneficial as they:

  • Are highly qualified in the therapy or medicine you are considering
  • Have an objective view of your conditions
  • Have experience in treating a range of conditions
  • Can suggest suitable complementary therapies based on your individual needs
  • Can prepare an effective treatment plan through discussion with your clinician
  • Can help to avoid various health risks associated with complementary therapies


The way from diagnosis to the treatment of cancer is complicated for people with cancer. Therefore, it becomes essential to strengthen the physical and mental health to fight during the journey. Complementary therapies can help to improve the overall well-being of patients.

Mindfulness, medications, support groups, consultation, yoga, exercises like aerobics, balance, flexibility and music/art therapies can add a zest to the patient's life. Also, other techniques prescribed by the doctor can help to reduce the symptoms. So, these therapies can be used as an essential medicine in cancer treatment to increase the treatment compliance and efficacy and patient's quality of life.

Along with these complementary therapies, also take care that you have a balanced nutritional diet during the whole treatment and afterwards. Include healthy greens, colourful vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, healthy proteins, omega-3 fatty acids and drinks into your diet. This is also essential to maintain the immunity, energy and homeostasis of the body.

Stay positive, Stay healthy!

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