Walk into any major cancer center and you're likely to see not only regular exam rooms, equipment, and chemotherapy suites, but also massage rooms, yoga mats, and maybe even a choir practice room.
This is the world of complementary and alternative medicine. Today, more research supports treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, and some diet supplements as good ways to relieve some of the side effects of chemotherapy.
The number of treatment centers that offer these options and the number of people who take advantage of them have both jumped in recent years. One study found that as many as half of all people getting cancer treatment in the U.S. used some type of complementary option.
And perhaps with good reason.
Most of the complementary treatments doctors recommend have few or no side effects, says Ted Gansler, MD. He's the director of medical content at the American Cancer Society.
It's fine to try music therapy or meditation, for example, while you follow your standard treatment plan, he says.
Here's a rundown of complementary treatments that might help relieve some of the side effects you can have during chemo.
This technique probably has more research backing it up than any other complementary treatment for cancer, says Jeffrey D. White, MD. He's the director of the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Acupuncture involves getting tiny, thin needles placed into specific parts of the body. Scientists think it releases "feel-good" brain chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin.
When people get acupuncture along with their medical treatments, it seems to do a good job of easing nausea and vomiting, two of the most common side effects of chemo, Gansler says.
There's not a lot of evidence to show that supplements work for chemo side effects, with one possible exception: ginger. One large study found that people with cancer who took 0.5-1 gram of ginger in capsules for 6 days had less nausea and vomiting than people who took a sugar pill.
This can help relieve the fatigue that chemo causes. It might also improve nausea, anxiety, and pain.