Types of Complementary Therapies

Some people with cancer may consider using complementary therapy

in addition to standard cancer treatment. This approach is called

integrative medicine when it has been discussed with and approved by your health care team.

Many people use complementary therapies to:

  • Reduce the side effects of cancer treatment
  • Improve their physical and emotional well-being
  • Improve their recovery from cancer

Talk with your health care team before adding any therapies to your standard treatment. They can help you safely combine the therapies that are right for you.

Type of complementary therapies

Researchers have found that the following complementary therapies can reduce pain and improve well-being:

Physical activity

Participating in physical activity may help

people with cancer:

  • Build strength and endurance
  • Relax and cope with stress
  • Relieve pain, fatigue, anxiety, and depression
  • Live longer

Talk with a physical therapist or a trainer who works with people with cancer. They can help find the best exercise plan for you.


Professional nutrition counseling with a registered dietitian helps patients:

  • Manage weight changes
  • Cope with nausea

Types of Complementary Therapies


This type of therapy involves the use of very tiny needles and/or pressure to stimulate points on the body. Research shows that acupuncture: releases chemicals, such as beta-endorphin and serotonin, in the brain to relieve pain

Can help reduce chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting

Can help relieve certain symptoms:

Hot flashes

Dry mouth

May relieve the other symptoms listed below, but there is less information on how well it can work for these symptoms:



Sleep problems

Appetite loss and weight changes

Diarrhea and constipation

Anxiety during procedures

Swallowing difficulties


Mind and body practices. It is important to manage stress and depression during and after treatment. It can help you have the best chance of recovery. Many mind and body practices can help improve quality of life:


Yoga uses breathing exercises, mediation, and poses to stretch and flex different muscle groups. Yoga has been found to help regulate stress hormones and improve mood and physical well-being. It can also reduce pain, fatigue, nausea, sleep problems, and inflammation.

Tai chi and qigong. Tai chi and qigong combine a series of fluid movements with slow, regulated breathing. These mind-body practices have been found to improve quality of life, reduce sleep problems, and decrease inflammation.


Meditation is the focusing of attention to calm the mind and relax the body. It decreases chronic pain and improves mood and many other aspects of quality of life. Studies have also shown that meditation can lower stress hormones and improve immune function. Meditation can be self-taught or guided by others. There are many different types, including:

Focused meditation

Open awareness/mindfulness

Compassion or loving-kindness meditation

Music therapy-

Trained therapists can guide a person through music therapy. It can improve recovery and general well-being. Music therapy works well for people receiving palliative treatments and those staying in the hospital.


Research shows that massage can:

Reduce pain

Decrease tension and stress

Help with recovery after surgery

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