Standard therapy for breast cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Natural treatments may also help people manage breast cancer symptoms and side effects from medications as well as strengthen the body’s defenses.
Many people find that using natural and complementary therapies helps promote better overall health and makes them feel that they are proactive in their cancer treatment.
However, while natural treatments can help support standard therapy for breast cancer, they cannot replace it. People considering the use of these treatments should talk to their doctor beforehand.
In this article, we explore some of the natural and complementary therapies for people undergoing treatment for breast cancer. We also cover the medical treatment options.
Acupuncture has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine and may help a person manage the symptoms and side effects that standard treatments for breast cancer may cause.
Acupuncture involves gently placing very thin needles into specific pressure points in the skin. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), studies suggest that this process may stimulate the brain and nervous system to help reduce pain.
The National Cancer Institute cite some clinical studies that suggest acupuncture may help relieve nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy treatments. They also note that limited evidence indicates that acupuncture may also help reduce cancer pain in some people.
Anyone curious about whether acupuncture might be beneficial should talk to their doctor.
Massage therapy is the process of manually stimulating the tissues in the skin and muscles. Many people say it helps promote relaxation and may also help relieve pain and anxiety, but the scientific evidence to support these claims is limited.
Despite this, the NCCIH guidelines for doctors recommend massage therapy as one of several approaches that may help improve a person’s quality of life and relieve:
However, it is essential to see a massage therapist who understands the unique needs of someone undergoing cancer treatment.
Tai chi and qi gong are two movement-based exercises that originated in China. Both practices aim to move and balance the natural energies within the body and place a strong focus on breathing and meditation.
These practices may help reduce stress and pain and improve mobility and mental health. Many people also find tai chi and qi gong helpful during cancer treatment to reduce the side effects chemotherapy or radiation.
According to the NCCIH, research indicates that practicing tai chi may improve mood and quality of life in people with cancer. However, researchers have carried out fewer studies into the benefits of qi gong.
Biofeedback is a type of therapy that aims to teach people how to identify and control certain involuntary aspects of the body, such as the heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
During a biofeedback session, a therapist connects the person to an electrical device that provides visual or auditory signals whenever subtle physiological changes happen in the body. By monitoring and responding to these signals, the person attempts to learn how to control certain functions.
Some studies suggest that biofeedback may help people with cancer manage their symptoms and treatment side effects, according to the NCCIH. However, it is important to practice biofeedback under the guidance of a licensed therapist.
Reiki is an alternative therapy based on the belief that a person can use their hands to direct energy around the body to promote healing. Reiki is not a replacement for medical treatment, however.
Some people find that Reiki helps them feel more relaxed and eases pain and anxiety. But, according to the NCCIH, the results of scientific studies into the benefits of Reiki have been inconsistent.
Eating a specific diet will not cure cancer, and people should be wary of claims that it will.
A healthful, balanced diet is vital for general health, however, and eating well may help support the body during cancer treatment, reducing fatigue from aggressive treatments.
General diet tips include reducing or limiting:
- foods that are very high in fat
- salty foods
- smoked or charred foods
- processed meats
People may also consider adding more vitamin and mineral-rich foods to their diets, such as vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods.
In addition to a healthful diet, certain supplements may also help support the body during breast cancer.
There is no evidence that supplements help treat or cure cancer. Some people take them to try to reduce specific symptoms of the disease or side effects of medical treatments, such as nausea or loss of appetite.
According to a 2016 review article, some research suggests that some people with cancer may find the following herbal supplements beneficial:
However, the NCCIH report that the evidence for taking antioxidant supplements during cancer treatment is conflicting, with some studies suggesting that they may even be harmful. Examples of potent antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, and beta carotene.
It is also essential to be aware that some supplements may have side effects or adversely interact with other medications, including cancer drugs. People with breast cancer should always speak to their doctor before taking any supplements.
Medical use of cannabis and cannabis products is gaining popularity, partly due to shifting regulations allowing for more scientific research into the benefits of the plant.
While cannabis is not a treatment for cancer, its compounds can help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting.
However, only certain countries and U.S. states permit the medical use of cannabis. It is, therefore, essential for a person to check the legality of medical cannabis in the place where they live before obtaining or using it for any purpose.
Some holistic therapies aim to promote peace and balance in a person’s state of mind, which help promote relaxation and reduce stress. They will not treat cancer, however.
Some people with breast cancer find that holistic therapies reduce anxiety and other mental health-related effects of a cancer diagnosis. These therapies include:
- art therapy
- music therapy
- dance therapy
Doctors do not recommend complementary and alternative practices as a primary treatment for breast cancer, but they can help support standard treatments.
Treatment for breast cancer depends on several factors, including:
- the type of breast cancer
- the stage and grade of the cancer
- whether the person has gone through menopause
- the person’s general health and personal preferences
Doctors usually recommend a combination of treatments for breast cancer. Treatment options can include:
- radiation therapy
- hormone therapy
- targeted therapy
There are also typically many ongoing clinical trials for cancer treatment that a person can choose to participate in.
Doctors do not recommend natural and complementary therapies to replace standard treatments for breast cancer. However, some of these therapies may help reduce medication side effects and support a person’s body and mind during treatment and recovery.
People considering natural or complementary therapies for breast cancer should speak to their doctor first. A doctor can also advise on standard treatment options and address any concerns that a person may have about symptoms or medication side effects.