Complementary Therapy

Complementary therapies are techniques that may help you to cope with breast cancer treatment and manage the psychological, social and physical burdens treatment can entail. 

Complementary therapies should not be used as a replacement or alternative to conventional and scientifically proven medicine.

However, if they help you cope with side effects, relieve some symptoms and improve your quality of life then they can be a valuable addition to your treatment programme. You may like to check out Professor Shaun Holt's book, Complementary Therapies for Cancer - What works, what doesn't ... and how to tell the difference (Craig Potton Publishing, 2010) for a guide on complementary techniques. 

Always check with your doctor before beginning a complementary therapy. BCAC advises against “alternative medication” as a replacement for conventional medication.  These "alternative" medications have not been scientifically validated or proven to be effective in fighting cancer and could interfere with your conventional treatment programme. 

Some common complementary therapies include:


Acupuncture involves a practitioner inserting very thin needles into your body. Acupuncture is based on traditional Chinese medicine and needles are placed in parts of the body thought to improve the body’s vital energy or ‘Qi’. 

Research has shown that acupuncture may stimulate the nervous system to release natural pain killers. Some studies have shown it may be effective in helping:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain.


Massage involves manipulating the soft tissue of the body and many people find it relaxing and beneficial for relieving stress. Some studies have shown that it is helpful in relieving:

  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety.


Yoga is a form of traditional Indian exercise that focuses on the body and the mind. It involves stretching exercises and may be helpful in:

  • Strengthening muscles
  • Reducing stress
  • Reducing fatigue.

Other forms of exercise can also be beneficial for many women. BCAC member group, the PINC Cancer Rehabilitation Programme, offers exercise programmes that help to strengthen the body and focus the mind following breast cancer treatment.


Meditation is a mind exercise that involves focusing on a specific thing so that all extraneous thoughts are put out of the mind.

Meditation has been found to help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Improve sleep
  • Reduce fatigue


Counselling involves talking to a trained professional about your emotions and behaviours.  Many people may find counselling helps them to:

  • Relieve stress
  • Focus on the positive
  • Deal with negative emotions.

Keeping a journal

This involves writing down an account of the thoughts, feelings and events you experience. It has been shown that this can help to:

  • Improve emotional wellbeing
  • Improve physical health.

Music and Art Therapy

This involves using music or art to express yourself and your feelings.  For some people this outlet can help to:

  • Reduce anxiety
  • Improve emotional wellbeing


For those who are religious or subscribe to a form of spirituality, prayer can be a useful way to:

  • Relieve anxiety
  • Enhance emotional wellbeing.