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How Integrative Therapies Can Help When You Have Cancer

When you have cancer, it is important to empower yourself, body, mind, and spirit, with the tools that can help you navigate your diagnosis. Integrative or complementary medicine includes a range of mind-body tools that work in conjunction with standard medical treatment.

According to cancer.gov, these therapies can help you:

  • Deal with and ease the side effects of treatment
  • Feel better about your diagnosis and treatment
  • Maintain a sense of efficacy
  • Potentially help you treat your disease

At Unite for HER, our mission is to enrich the health and well-being of those diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancers – for life – by funding and delivering integrative therapies.

Those diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer in the last 18 months or living with metastatic breast cancer or recurrent ovarian cancer can apply to the Unite for HER Wellness Program to receive access to integrative therapies at no personal cost.

What are Integrative Therapies?

Integrative therapies bring evidence-based complementary therapies and conventional medicine together. These complementary therapies include biologically-based therapies, emotional/mental approaches, and energetic/spiritual practices. There is a strong evidence base for some of these, and more research is underway for others.

What are physical/biological approaches?

Physical/biological approaches generally focus on nutrients, and include:

  • Nutrition counseling, like that offered by registered dietitians at Unite for HER, helps patients to understand how cancer treatment can deplete our bodies and how to get the nutrients you need. They also have tips for cancer-treatment related food issues such as changes in taste and appetite.
  • Supplements, such as vitamins, herbs, enzymes, and probiotics
  • Botanicals such as cannabis

What are body-based practices?

Body-based practices focus on adjustment and alignment of the physical body, and include:

  • Acupuncture. This involves placing needles in various meridian treatment points to restore the flow of energy through the energy field. Research shows that this ancient healing practice helps cancer patients, including anxiety, depression, mental fatigue, and pain.
  • Massage, including shiatsu, deep tissue, craniosacral, and myofascial, help us relax, reduces anxiety, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure. Research is underway to find how it supports people being treated for cancer.
  • Chiropractic therapies are hands-on treatments to manipulate the spine and other organs and tissues in the body. They are used to treat pain including headaches and back pain.
  • Tai Chi and Qi Gong, which involve slow movements designed to move subtle energies in the system
  • Hatha yoga, or exercises, which incorporate movement, stretching, holding poses, and breathing, all designed to move energy in the system. It can help address fatigue and improve strength during cancer treatment. Additionally, the breathing/meditative aspects of the practice can help with anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

What are mind-body practices?

These practices are becoming more popular in the mainstream and include

  • Psychotherapy: Research shows that working with a therapist can help improve overall wellbeing and decrease anxiety, depression, and distress in cancer patients. At Unite for HER, our therapists are experienced in working with people who have breast or ovarian cancer.
  • Mindfulness: This practice of turning again and again to the present moment, with a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts and feelings, can help you refocus away from the fear and worry that cancer causes.
  • Meditation: There are many forms of meditation, but all involve a specific posture (seated, walking, yoga, etc.), a quiet place (when possible), focused attention (on the breath, or a word or phrase, or a concept or idea, or object), and an openness to the flow of interrupting thoughts and distractions. All forms seem to help people with cancer reduce anxiety, stress, and fatigue, while improving mood and sleep.
  • Hypnotherapy, Guided Imagery, Guided Meditation: These modalities are delivered by a therapist or a recording. They help us relax, and are associated with an increased feeling of well-being. Some studies suggest they may temporarily improve our immune function. All will help lower our brainwaves to alpha or theta levels, where we can be creative, relaxed, and peaceful.

What is biofield therapy?

These practices rest on the premise that we have an energy field, or biofield, that can be manipulated with hands-on, hands-over, or distant treatment. They include:

  • Reiki: the most common form of biofield therapy used in the U.S. today, it involves balancing the energy field via hand placements and the movement of energy. It can also be delivered at a distance, or via distant Reiki. It can help cancer patients feel calm and maintain treatment.
  • Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch: These are also hands-on approaches that aim to restore balance in the flow of energy through the biofield. Research shows that these hands-on approaches reduce pain and improve our sense of calm and wellbeing; moreover, many cancer patients find them helpful.
  • Qi Gong Therapy: in addition to Qi Gong exercises, this ancient Chinese modality can be a hands-on treatment delivered by a Qi Gong master. It is similar to Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and Healing Touch, though it is not as widespread in the U.S. as the other forms of biofield therapies.

Where to start?

Integrative therapies incorporate conventional care and evidence-based complementary therapies.

At Unite for HER, we endorse nutritional counseling, psychotherapy, yoga/meditation, and Reiki, and provide these therapies to those newly diagnosed with breast cancer or living with metastatic disease. To learn more about the Unite for HER Wellness Program, please contact us at wellnessprogram@uniteforher.org.

In addition, we believe in the value of medical acupuncture, and hands-on techniques like oncology massage therapy. To locate a licensed medical acupuncturist near you, visit the American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists Provider directory online.

To locate a licensed massage therapist, trained in oncology massage and cancer care, speaker to your oncologist or visit The Society for Oncology Massage online.

Before beginning any complementary therapy, please talk to your health care team, and make sure your treatment is indeed integrative!

Written by Sarah Murphy, Unite for HER

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis. For information on similar topics, see our Psychosocial and Stress Management resources.

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