Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia: Complementary Therapy

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on March 07, 2023
3 min read

Targeted drugs, surgery, and radiation are among the common treatments for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), but complementary therapy can also play a role in managing your disease.

Complementary therapies such as yoga, massage, or acupuncture don't take the place of your regular cancer treatment. They work along with it to ease side effects and stress, and help you feel better overall.

Talk to the doctor who treats your cancer before you try complementary therapy to make sure that it's safe for you and that you use it correctly.

Deep breathing is a simple way to cut the anxiety and stress of living with cancer. It might also help you sleep better.

You can do deep breathing anywhere. To start, take a deep breath from your diaphragm, which is between your lungs and belly. Hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly let the air out.

Meditation takes deep breathing one step further by focusing your mind. Sit somewhere quiet and concentrate on the feel of your breath going in and out of your nose and mouth. Or focus on the sound of a word that you repeat, such as "love" or "hope." Let any thoughts pass through your mind without dwelling on them.

Yoga combines deep breathing with movements and a series of poses. When you have cancer, it might help you ease stress and improve your mood.

If you want to try yoga, ask your doctor first to make sure the poses are safe for you.

When you get acupuncture, a practitioner puts thin needles onto spots in your body. It may help with chemotherapy side effects such as:

  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Sleepiness
  • Hot flashes
  • Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet

Acupuncture has few risks. Still, you want to go to a licensed acupuncturist who has experience in treating people with cancer. Treatments like chemotherapy can weaken your immune system -- the body's defense against germs -- which can raise your chances of an infection from an unclean needle.

Massage creates a feeling of warmth in your body and increases blood flow to your organs and tissues. It can help manage stress, ease soreness, and make you feel relaxed.

Reflexology combines massage with elements of acupuncture. The therapist massages points on your hands and feet.

Studies suggest that massage helps with leukemia symptoms such as pain, nausea, tiredness, and trouble sleeping. That relief can last for 2 days after your session.

Massage is generally safe for people with cancer. You may need to avoid deep tissue massage if you have a low platelet count because it could cause bruising. Ask your doctor before you try this therapy, and look for a massage therapist who has experience in treating people with cancer.

Aromatherapy uses concentrated oils from plants, called essential oils, to relieve cancer symptoms. You can either breathe in these oils or have a massage therapist rub them into your skin.

In small studies, aromatherapy helped to improve symptoms like these in people with cancer:

  • Anxiety
  • Appetite
  • Tiredness
  • Depression
  • Nausea
  • Pain

Each essential oil has a different use. Ginger oil helps with nausea. Sweet marjoram improves pain and anxiety. Lavender helps you relax and sleep better.

Essential oils are safe overall, but in some people they can cause allergic reactions or irritate the skin. If you have sensitive skin, you might want to try out a tiny bit of the oil on a small area of your skin before using it during a massage.

This form of Chinese martial arts combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing and focused thoughts. Tai chi is more than just an exercise program. Studies show it can be helpful for fatigue, sleep problems, depression, and pain. And it's gentle enough for people with cancer.

The best way to learn tai chi is to take a class, either in person or virtually online. Let the teacher know if you have any joint or muscle problems before you start. You may need to modify some of the movements.

Plants have been part of the treatment for many diseases for thousands of years. A few herbs have been studied for their ability to treat cancer, including:

  • Ginseng
  • Garlic
  • Kenaf
  • Grape seed
  • Tumeric
  • Green tea extract

Although these natural treatments kill cancer cells or stop them from growing and dividing in the lab, there is limited research that shows they work in people. Talk to your doctor before you try any herbal supplement. Although these remedies are natural, they could cause side effects or interact with medicines you take to treat your cancer.