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:
Hypnosis, massage, meditation, relaxation techniques
Exercise, massage, relaxation techniques, yoga
Nausea and vomiting
Acupuncture, aromatherapy, hypnosis, music therapy
Acupuncture, aromatherapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, massage, music therapy
Exercise, relaxation techniques, yoga
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.
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 are ways of focusing your attention on calming your mind and relaxing your muscles. Relaxation techniques 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 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.
Six free 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
Cranial Sacral Therapy
Functional Medicine Based Nutrition
St. Joseph Health
Gentle, therapeutic yoga for those receiving cancer treatment or have completed treatment. This class offers a space, practice and a welcoming community to promote wellness.
Classes held every Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 AM – Noon
Three Dog Yoga
1617 Terrace Way
Register to attend at the number above and arrive 10 minutes prior to class start time.
Gentle Yoga/Sound Healing
Promote wellness and healing through gentle yoga, guided meditation and sound healing.
Last Wednesday of each month
5:30PM to 7:30PM
Finley Center, Person Senior Wing
2060 West College Avenue, Santa Rosa
Arrive 15 minutes early to attend class
Art from the Heart
Art therapy program for patients currently receiving cancer treatment or who have had cancer treatment in the past.
Open art studio classes held the first Wednesday of the month
5:30PM to 7:30PM
Finley Center, Person Senior Wing
2060 West College Avenue, Santa Rosa
Sutter Cancer Support Services
Specialty Groups and Classes
Moving On After Cancer Book Club & Group
Led by Peer Counseling Coordinator, Kate Davis- Schabel
2nd and 4th Monday of each month, 5:00-6:30pm
2449 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa
Main entrance, 2nd Floor
Sutter Survivorship Speaker Series
Presentations offered approximately every month on a
variety of cancer-related topics.
Call to find out about the next scheduled session
Airport Health Club
Cancer Wellness Program
432 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa
Call Lori Ennis at 521-2443 or
An exercise program for people recovering from any kind of cancer at any stage.
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.
10 weeks in length and free of charge to members and non-members
Meets Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 – 3:00pm
Call for more information or to reserve your spot for the next session
Parkpoint Health Club
Cancer Series – Exercise 2 Wellness Cancer Recovery
1200 North Dutton, Santa Rosa
Call Krista Williams at (707) 578-1640 ext 138 or
195 Foss Creek Circle, Healdsburg
Call Jan Blalock at (707) 385-2500 or
A free 8-week exercise, yoga, and qigong program for cancer patients in any stage from diagnosis through recovery. You will be guided through gentle, easy-to-follow exercises appropriate for all levels. Each class will include a half-hour of light strength training followed by a half-hour of gentle yoga or qigong.
Open to members and non-members
Advanced registration is required
Participants are allowed to use the club during the 8-week series only
Participants may enroll for a maximum of (2) 8-week series
19111 Sonoma Hwy., Sonoma
Contact Ed Mount at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any person that has been diagnosed with cancer, regardless of the stage, is eligible to participate as long as they are in active treatment. We work with individuals facing surgery due to their type of cancer and with clients pre- and post-surgery to be better prepared and to help speed the healing process.
Program participants work twice a week individually with our training staff
Program is dependent on the needs of the individual
A no fee based program and open to the public