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Therapies to Ease Your Symptoms

When you’re feeling the symptoms of cancer or treatment side effects -- pain, nausea, fatigue, anxiety -- you may want to look beyond standard medicine for solutions. Complementary therapies won’t treat or cure the disease, but many of them can help you feel better and blend safely into your care. Before you try one, be sure to talk about it with your doctor.

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woman doing yoga with istructor
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This exercise, which focuses on breathing, stretches, and physical poses, is a low-stress way to move and feel better. Some people in cancer treatment who took up the practice with an experienced instructor were less anxious and tired and felt better overall, researchers found. Before you roll out your mat, though, get a recommendation from your doctor and talk to the teacher to make sure you choose the right style of class for you.

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This therapy aims to control symptoms by placing very thin needles into specific points on your body. Studies suggest that it may help your nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, but it's not clear how it works for cancer-related pain and fatigue. If you try it, look for a licensed, certified acupuncturist or ask your doctor for a recommendation.

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acupressure wristband
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This therapy is a bit like acupuncture, but without the needles. A special bracelet stimulates a spot on the inside of your wrist. Although scientists aren’t sure how it works, studies have found that acupressure may ease nausea, a common symptom of cancer and its treatments, like radiation and chemotherapy.

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woman getting massage
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A rubdown from a licensed massage therapist just feels good, plus it can ease symptoms like pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and depression. It’s safe even for people in advanced stages of the disease. When you book an appointment, let the therapist know that you have cancer. They can offer some options that will work best for your condition. If you’re getting radiation, tell them to avoid those areas, as well as any skin that is red or swollen.

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woman doing tai chi
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Tai Chi

This ancient Chinese martial art focuses on slow movement, meditation, and breathing. It may help you feel better overall, studies suggest, and it could reduce fatigue from cancer, too. Scientists also think it may boost your immune system, which could be key in fighting cancer, but they need more research to know for sure.

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People have used essential oils such as peppermint and eucalyptus as home remedies for centuries. You can rub them on your skin, breathe them in, or add a few drops to your bathwater or a compress. If you try one of these botanicals, you may feel less anxious and depressed and even sleep better. Watch out for allergic reactions on your skin, and if you have a tumor that’s sensitive to estrogen, steer clear of lavender and tea tree products.

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biofeedback machine
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This therapy can help you relax and manage pain. It uses special machines to monitor some of your body’s basic signals, like heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and breathing. A licensed technician can teach you how to use this info to control how your body is working.

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woman imagining the beach
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Guided Imagery

This technique harnesses the power of your mind. For instance, close your eyes and imagine yourself in a favorite spot, free of pain. You can combine it with progressive muscle relaxation, in which you tense and release parts of your body. You can guide yourself or work with a therapist (in person or recorded) for direction. One study found people in chemotherapy who used these therapies had less pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and depression.

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A massage that puts pressure on specific spots on the soles of your feet could help ease some of your symptoms. A study of women with breast cancer found that it especially helped with fatigue and shortness of breath. Plus, there’s no downside to a good foot rub.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 01/20/2021 Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 20, 2021


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American Cancer Society: "Complementary and Alternative Methods and Cancer."

Buffart, L. BioMed Central Cancer, published online Nov. 27, 2012.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Yoga In Depth."

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BreastCancer.org: "Massage."

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National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: “Methods of Application.”

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on January 20, 2021

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.