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Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Multiple Myeloma

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on April 09, 2021

Multiple myeloma and the treatments for it can cause pain, fatigue, constipation, loss of appetite, and other unpleasant symptoms. Complementary and alternative treatments may help you relieve these symptoms or ease the stress of living with cancer.

The term “complementary and alternative medicine” refers to treatments that are not part of standard medical care. They can include massage, acupuncture, tai chi, and herbal remedies. There’s some overlap between this term and naturopathy, homeopathy, and holistic medicine.

Complementary and alternative therapies for multiple myeloma symptoms and treatment side effects include:

  • Exercise
  • Herbs and supplements
  • Body-based or touch therapies, where a trained practitioner touches your body
  • Mind-body practices, such as meditation

How They Work

Complementary treatments work alongside your regular medical treatments to help you feel better and improve your quality of life. They’re not a cure for any type of cancer. If you stop standard cancer treatment and only use alternative therapies, you could put your life at risk.

Complementary and alternative treatments for multiple myeloma may:

Exercise

If you’re inactive and out of shape, your cancer treatments may be less effective. Exercise can make a difference. It can also help maintain muscle strength, improve your heart and lung health, and ease stress as you deal with your cancer. If you’d like to see how exercise can help you, talk to your doctor about a safe way to get started before beginning any new type of exercise.

Multiple myeloma often causes a drop in healthy blood cells that makes it harder to get enough exercise. As you start to exercise, take it slowly. Don’t overdo it. If you have anemia, you should only do light activity so you don’t get too tired. If your white blood counts are low, wear a mask to protect yourself from infections if you exercise away from home.

Tai chi and yoga are both gentle forms of exercise that may benefit people with multiple myeloma. Tai chi combines flowing movements with focused breathing. Yoga moves you through a series of poses. Research shows that both of these could reduce stress and anxiety, ease pain and fatigue, and improve sleep in people who have cancer.

Physical activity that requires you to support your own body weight could reduce the risk of bone breaks that comes with multiple myeloma. Go for an easy walk or dance in your living room. If you’re up to it, climb a few steps. Stop if you feel any pain.

Acupuncture

This traditional Chinese therapy may ease several disease symptoms and treatment side effects. In acupuncture, a trained specialist inserts the tips of very thin needles into specific points on your body related to specific symptoms.

One study showed that acupuncture may help control nausea, appetite loss, and drowsiness and reduce the need for pain medicine after a stem cell transplant, a common myeloma treatment.

Cannabidiol (CBD)

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an oil made from the same plant as marijuana, but it doesn’t contain THC, the substance in pot that makes you high. It’s available over the counter in many locations.

Early research suggests that CBD oil could help ease chemotherapy side effects like nausea and vomiting, nerve pain, anxiety, depression, weight loss, and insomnia.

Before you try CBD oil or any cannabinoid product, talk with your doctor to make sure it won’t interact with any of your prescription drugs.

Turmeric

Curcumin, the active ingredient found in the spice turmeric, is an antioxidant that may ease inflammation and swelling. Some very early research suggests that curcumin could work with multiple myeloma chemotherapy to make treatment more effective. But this spice can interact with some cancer drugs. Talk with your doctor before you take turmeric supplements or add a lot of the spice to your diet.

Vitamin D

People with multiple myeloma often have low levels of vitamin D. Healthy levels of this vitamin can protect you from bone complications that are common in this type of blood cancer.

Some research shows that vitamin D may improve bone mineral density and muscle function and lower your risk of falls. The standard dose is 400-600 IU per day. But your doctor may want you to take a higher dose if your vitamin D levels are low.

Body-Based or Touch Therapies

Body-based or touch therapies could ease pain and stress or just improve your well-being. You might try some of the following:

  • Massage therapy can relieve muscle pain and help you relax. Tell your massage therapist you have multiple myeloma and to use light touch to protect your bones, which may be weak.
  • Reflexology is a type of foot massage. The therapist presses on certain points on your feet to relieve symptoms like pain or nausea or just to help you relax.
  • Reiki is a therapy in which a practitioner holds their hands over certain places on your body while you lie still. They don’t touch your body. Their hand movements are meant to channel healing energy to ease tension or pain.
  • Aromatherapy, or use of fragrant essential oils, can go along with massage therapy or stand alone. It may reduce stress and anxiety or just help you relax. If your skin is sensitive due to chemotherapy or radiation, use scented candles instead of oils.

Mind-Body Therapies

Mind-body therapies use the power of your mind to promote well-being and healing. They include meditation, guided imagery, music therapy, qi gong, and visualization. These therapies may help ease stress and muscle tension, improve sleep, relieve treatment side effects like nausea, vomiting, pain, and fatigue, or just improve the way you feel.

What to Know Before You Try Complementary Therapies

Before you try any complementary treatments for multiple myeloma, talk to your oncologist. They can tell you whether the therapy is safe for you, if it will interact with your cancer treatments, and if it’s likely to be effective.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Myeloma,” “Alternative cancer treatments: 10 options to consider,” “Curcumin: can it slow cancer growth?”

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: “Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products: FAQs,” “Yoga,” “About Mind-Body Therapies.”

National Cancer Institute: “Manipulative and Body-Based Practice,” “Mind-Body Practice,” “Forgoing Conventional Cancer Treatments for Alternative Medicine Increases Risk of Death,” “Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ® Patient Version),” “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”

Myeloma Canada: “Complementary Therapies.”

Weill Cornell Medicine Myeloma Center: “Staying Active and Safe with Multiple Myeloma.”

Canadian Cancer Society: “Tai Chi.”

Cochrane Database Systematic Review: “Yoga in addition to standard care for patients with haemotological malignancies.”

Support Care Cancer: “Acupuncture for reduction of symptom burden in multiple myeloma patients undergoing autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation: a randomized sham-controlled trial.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “CBD Oil and Cancer: 9 Things to Know.”

Cancer Biology & Therapy: “Curcumin induces cell death of the main molecular myeloma subtypes, particularly the poor prognosis subgroups.”

Blood: “Vitamin D Levels Are Frequently Below Normal in Multiple Myeloma Patients and Are Infrequently Assessed by Their Treating Physicians.”

North American Journal of Medical Sciences: “Vitamin D deficiency in a man with multiple myeloma.”

Current Oncology Reports: “Mind-Body Therapies in Cancer: What Is the Latest Evidence?”

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