Complementary Therapies

Complementary Therapies


Complementary therapies can’t cure your cancer, but they may provide some relief from signs and symptoms.

Many people with cancer are interested in trying anything that may help them, including complementary therapies. If cancer makes you feel as if you have little control over your health, these therapies may offer some feeling of control.

Here are some options recommended by the Mayo Clinic that are generally safe and there is some evidence they may provide some benefit.


How Can Complementary Therapies Help People with Cancer?


Complementary therapies won’t play any role in curing your cancer, but they may help you cope with signs and symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Common signs and symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, and stress may be lessened by these therapies.

Integrating the best of evidence-based complementary therapies with the treatments you receive from your doctor may help relieve many of the symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment. Discuss all of your options with your doctor and together you can determine which strategies might work for you and which are likely to have no benefit.

Work closely with your doctor to determine the right balance between traditional medicines and complementary therapies. Therapies such as acupuncture may reduce nausea or pain but you will also need the cancer medications prescribed by your doctor.


If You’re Experiencing Any of These Symptoms, Consider Trying These Methods:


Anxiety: Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques

Fatigue: Exercise, massage, relaxation techniques, yoga

Nausea and vomiting: Acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music therapy

Pain: Acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, massage, music therapy

Sleep problems: Exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga

Stress: Aromatherapy, exercise, hypnosis, massage, meditation, tai chi, yoga


Which Complementary Therapies are Worth Trying?


 These therapies have shown some promise in helping people with cancer.  Let your doctor know if you are interested in or actually trying:



During acupuncture treatment, a practitioner inserts tiny needles into your skin at precise points. Studies show acupuncture may be helpful in relieving nausea caused by chemotherapy. Acupuncture may also help relieve certain types of pain in people with cancer.

Acupuncture is safe if it’s performed by a licensed practitioner using sterile needles. Ask your doctor for names of trusted practitioners. Acupuncture isn’t safe if you’re taking blood thinners or if you have low blood counts, so check with your doctor first.



Aromatherapy uses fragrant oils to provide a calming sensation. Oils, infused with scents such as lavender, can be applied to your skin during a massage or the oils can be added to bath water. Fragrant oils also can be heated to release their scents into the air. Aromatherapy may be helpful in relieving nausea, pain and stress.

Aromatherapy can be performed by a practitioner, or you can use aromatherapy on your own. Aromatherapy is safe, though oils applied to your skin can cause allergic reactions.  People with cancer that is estrogen sensitive, such as some breast cancers, should avoid applying large amounts of lavender oil and tea tree oil to the skin.



Exercise may help you manage signs and symptoms during and after cancer treatment. Gentle exercise, such as walking or swimming, may help relieve fatigue and stress and help you sleep better.

If you haven’t already been exercising regularly, check with your doctor before you begin an exercise program. Start slowly, adding more exercise as you go. Aim to work your way up to at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.



Hypnosis is a deep state of concentration. During a hypnotherapy session, a therapist may hypnotize you by talking in a gentle voice and helping you relax. The therapist will then help you focus on goals, such as controlling your pain and reducing your stress.

Hypnosis may be helpful for people with cancer who are experiencing anxiety, pain and stress. It may also help prevent anticipatory nausea and vomiting that can occur if chemotherapy has made you sick in the past. When performed by a certified therapist, hypnosis is safe. But tell your therapist if you have a history of mental illness.



During a massage, your practitioner kneads your skin, muscles and tendons in an effort to relieve muscle tension and stress and promote relaxation. Several massage methods exist.

Massage can be light and gentle, or it can be deep with more pressure. Studies have found massage can be helpful in relieving pain in people with cancer. It may also help relieve anxiety, fatigue and stress.

Massage can be safe if you work with a knowledgeable massage therapist. Many cancer centers have massage therapists on staff, or your doctor can refer you to a massage therapist who regularly works with people who have cancer.

Don’t have a massage if your blood counts are low. Ask the massage therapist to avoid massaging near surgical scars, radiation treatment areas or tumors. If you have cancer in your bones or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, ask the massage therapist to use light pressure, rather than deep massage.



Meditation is a state of deep concentration when you focus your mind on one image, sound or idea, such as a positive thought. When meditating, you might also do deep-breathing or relaxation exercises. Meditation may help people with cancer by relieving anxiety and stress.

Meditation is generally safe. You can meditate on your own for a few minutes once or twice a day or you can take a class with an instructor.


Music Therapy

During music therapy sessions, you might listen to music, play instruments, sing songs or write lyrics. A trained music therapist may lead you through activities designed to meet your specific needs, or you may participate in music therapy in a group setting. Music therapy may help relieve pain and control nausea and vomiting.

Music therapy is safe and doesn’t require any musical talent to participate. Many medical centers have certified music therapists on staff.


Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are ways of focusing your attention on calming your mind and relaxing your muscles. They might include activities such as visualization exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. Relaxation techniques may be helpful in relieving anxiety and fatigue. They may also help people with cancer sleep better.

Relaxation techniques are safe. Typically a therapist leads you through these exercises and eventually you may be able to do them on your own.


Tai Chi

Tai chi is a form of exercise that incorporates gentle movements and deep breathing. Tai chi can be led by an instructor, or you can learn tai chi on your own following books or videos. Practicing tai chi may help relieve stress.

Tai chi is generally safe. The slow movements of tai chi don’t require great physical strength, and the exercises can be easily adapted to your own abilities. Still, talk to your doctor before beginning tai chi. Don’t do any tai chi moves that cause pain.



Yoga combines stretching exercises with deep breathing. During a yoga session, you position your body in various poses that require bending, twisting and stretching. There are many types of yoga, each with its own variations. Yoga may provide some stress relief for people with cancer. Yoga has also been shown to improve sleep and reduce fatigue.

Before beginning a yoga class, ask your doctor to recommend an instructor who regularly works with people with health concerns, such as cancer. Avoid yoga poses that cause pain. A good instructor can give you alternative poses that are safe for you.


You may find some alternative treatments work well together. For instance, deep breathing during a massage may provide further stress relief. 


Where To Get These Services Locally


Sutter Health Institute for Health & Healing

1210 Sonoma Ave, Santa Rosa



From the moment of receiving a cancer diagnosis, through treatment and recovery, patients and their families face numerous physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual challenges. Decision‐making is complex and navigating options may be overwhelming.
The Institute for Health & Healing has a holistic, patient-centered approach to care. Our physicians and allied practitioners offer evidence-based integrative medicine modalities that complement a patient’s conventional oncology care, delivered by a team of highly skilled, compassionate healthcare professionals.


Grants for clinical services in an outpatient clinic for women, men and children with a recent cancer diagnosis and in treatment.  These therapies offer physical, emotional and spiritual care and comfort to help relieve the side effects of cancer treatments:


  • Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Functional Medicine Based Nutrition
  • Guided Imagery
  • Jin Shin Jyutsu
  • Massage


Providence Medical Group (formerly St. Joseph Health)

Cancer Wellness Programs
Please contact Sharon Doughty at: 707-791-7874 or


Promoting wellness through activities and supportive community.


Please join us as we move forward safely, in community with FREE Zoom Cancer Wellness Programs online.

Classes are FREE of charge for anyone in treatment, having had cancer or living life’s journey with cancer.
You do not need to be a patient of St. Joseph Health/Providence to participate, all are welcome.


Weekly Classes:

Mondays 10 – 11:30 am  Qigong with Ilka

Tuesdays 10 – 11:30 am  Gentle Yoga with Nancy

Wednesdays  10:30 am – noon  Journeying Together-Patient Support Group with Carol

Wednesdays 1 – 2:30 pm  Healing Movement and Meditation

Thursdays 10 – 11:30 am  Gentle Yoga with Nancy

Thursdays 2:30 – 4 pm  Art From The Heart with Holly

Fridays 11 am – 12:30 pm  Patients Support Group with Tonia

Fridays 2:30 – 4 pm  Sound Healing with Sarah and David


Monthly Classes/On-call Services:

Nutrition Classes last Tuesday of each month 2:30 – 4 pm
Men’s Peer Support Group for men supporting loved ones through cancer.
Outdoor Music Therapy at the Cancer Center Monthly music for patients and staff from 10:30 am – 1 pm.


For more information, please contact Sharon Doughty at 707-791-7874 or


Sutter Cancer Support Services

Cancer Support Groups
2449 Summerfield Road, 2nd floor, Santa Rosa
Call Margie Tygerson at 707-521-7785


All support groups are currently being held virtually (online) via WebEx.
To attend, call 707-521-7785. We will give you the link and dial-in information.
All groups are FREE and you do NOT Need to be a part of Sutter to attend!

Early Stage or Newly Diagnosed Cancer Support Group
Led by Ange Stephens, MA, LMFT For those who have been newly diagnosed with any type or any stage of cancer, or anyone who has any type of early-stage cancer. Every Wednesday, 3:00-4:00 pm

Family, Friends & Caregiver Support Group
Led by Ange Stephens, MA, LMFT
For adults who are close to (or are caregivers for) someone with cancer.
Every Wednesday, 12:00 – 1:00 pm

Later Stage Cancer Support Group
Led by Ange Stephens, MA, LMFT
For those who have any type of stage III or IV cancer.
Every Wednesday, 4:30 – 6:00 pm

Monthly Mindfulness Meditation Group
Led by Ange Stephens, MA, LMFT
Created for those who have completed our mindfulness class series (offered 2 times per year).
1st Wednesday of each month, 10:00 – 11:30 am

Moving On After Cancer Book Club & Support Group
Led by Peer Counseling Coordinator & Cancer Survivor, Bob Heit. For those who have completed, or are completing cancer treatment.
2nd and 4th Thursday of each month, 5:00 – 6:30 pm

Prostate Cancer Support Group
Led by Bob Cobb, MSW & Cancer Survivor. Get important information and meet men who are living successfully and well with cancer. Partners welcome.
1st Monday of each month, 1:00 – 3:00 pm

Spanish Speaking Women’s Cancer Support Group
Led by Marcia Gomez, LCSW, Certified Gottman Therapist & Ale Dinkel, Cancer Survivor
For Spanish speaking women with any type and any stage of cancer.
4th Wednesday of each month (unless otherwise stated), 6:00 – 7:30 pm
Grupo de Apoyo Para Mujeres Con Cualquier Tipo de Cáncer (en Español)
Dirigido por Marcia Gomez, LCSW, Terapeuta Certificada de Gottman
Este grupo de apoyo le da la bienvenida a mujeres que han sido diagnosticas con cualquier tipo de cáncer. Le ofrece un ambiente seguro para explorar sus decisiones, pensamientos y emociones. Puede compartir su experiencia, ser escuchada y escuchar la historia de las demás. Así con esto, usted podrá aprender de otras y darse fuerza y comprensión que tanto uno necesita para seguir adelante.
Cuarto miércoles de cada mes, 6:00 – 7:30 pm

Young Women’s Cancer Support Group
Led by Mary Lou Carrington, RN, OCN & Mindy Ricioli, Cancer Survivor
Educational and emotional support for women 45 and under with any type and any stage of cancer.
2nd & 4th Wednesday of each month, 1:00 – 2:00 pm.

Survivorship Speaker Series
Presentations offered approximately every month on a variety of cancer-related topics. Call (707) 521-7785 to find out about our next scheduled session.

432 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa

Call Lisa Fuller at 707 521-2443


The Airport Health Club offers an exercise program for people recovering from cancer. Our Cancer Wellness Program is for members and non-members with any type of cancer at any stage. This program is 10 weeks in length and free of charge to members and non-members. We meet Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 – 3:00 pm in a beautiful private studio.


The program is designed to implement the process of improvement in pain management and function so participants can better perform activities of daily living through appropriate exercise. Participants see improvements in posture, breathing, bone strength, endurance, digestion, tolerance to chemotherapy, pain and fatigue.


The Airport Health Club Cancer Wellness program is funded through private donations from the community and is fiscally supported by the non-profit North Bay Cancer Alliance and the Airport Health Club. North Bay Cancer Alliance is an independent community resource, not affiliated with any hospital or medical group, providing a direct path to local and cancer resources and information as well as financial support for cancer patients who cannot afford to pay. The Airport Health Club donates resources to support the program.


10 weeks in length and free of charge to members and non-members
Meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 – 3:00 pm.
Call for more information or to reserve your spot for the next session.