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Complementary Treatments for Breast Cancer

What is acupuncture?

Some complementary treatments for cancer, such as acupuncture, have been researched. A small study shows that acupuncture may help relieve hot flashes caused by some breast cancer treatments. Yoga, massage, and meditation have also been shown to decrease these hot flashes. Other benefits of acupuncture may include less vomiting, pain, and fatigue.

Precautions: Women with lymph nodes removed under one arm shouldn't have acupuncture needles inserted into that arm. That's because there is a risk of swelling and excess fluid, a condition called lymphedema. Also, women with severely weakened immune systems are at higher risk of infection and should talk to their doctor before undergoing acupuncture.


What are tai chi and qigong?

Many CAM therapies are based on the idea that a natural, vital "bioenergy" exists. This energy is thought to cause health and healing, and disease happens when it’s blocked or weakened.

Tai chi and qigong are both from China and are based on manipulating energy through gentle movement, a focus on breathing, and meditation.

In China, doctors regularly prescribe qigong for cancer. It's used as an addition to chemotherapy and radiation, and as a primary treatment for people with inoperable, advanced cancer.

More U.S. hospitals are offering tai chi as a complement to standard care. It can bring an increase in self-esteem, an improvement in quality of life, and a sense of well-being.

Precautions: Because tai chi and qigong are so gentle, they carry few risks. You should, however, talk with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.


What is reiki?

Another form of energy medicine that is sometimes used in the treatment of breast cancer is reiki, a practice that comes from Japan. Practitioners pass their hands over a person's body to manipulate bioenergy. Most women who try reiki report feelings of relaxation and reduced pain, but no research has yet proved its benefits or shown how it works.

Can yoga help?

Yoga is being studied as a complementary treatment for breast cancer. It’s been shown to increase energy, vitality, and quality of life. Women with breast cancer -- especially after surgery -- should look for a gentle style of yoga. For example, hatha and restorative yoga may be good choices. These styles focus more on breathing, gentle movement, and relaxation.

Precautions: More athletic styles of yoga, such as power yoga, work the upper body. Depending on the type of treatment, these may not be good for some women. If you’ve had lymph nodes removed under one arm, there’s a risk of lymphedema. Always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program, including yoga.

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