Complementary Therapies for Cancer

Short book by Jackie de Burca

Complementary therapies are a diverse range of therapies which can be used in addition to mainstream medicine in order to relieve the discomfort of children with cancer and improve their quality of life.

In this short book, we will be covering a number of therapies that we think are applicable for children with cancer.

The use of these therapies is increasing especially in the cases of the sickest children.

The most frequent reasons (1) that parents opt to use a complementary therapy for their child with cancer are:

  • They wish to try every possible healthcare option
  • To improve the child’s general health
  • To help the child to relax
  • To reduce side effects from treatment
  • To decrease the child’s anxiety

Complementary therapies can have varied effects from soothing and relaxing to pain relief to helping strengthen the immune system. On an emotional level both the parents and the child can feel that they have taken back some of the control by using a complementary therapy. Some patients may believe that it can change their outcome and parents who go this route can feel more motivated to find a cure for their child (2).

The Department of Medical Oncology (3) at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, produced a research paper which concluded that patients’ satisfaction with complementary therapies was high even without the hoped for anti-cancer effect. Patients also reported psychological benefits such as optimism and hope.

Therapies such as aromatherapy and reflexology are based in the area known as holistic medicine, which means that well-being is a harmonious balance between the mind, body and spirit. When this balance is restored it is said to stimulate the body’s natural self-healing (4) processes.

For those who feel less comfortable with touch or talk therapies art or music therapies are wonderful options. Art therapists believe that being creative helps to heal. To do music therapy the patient does not need to be musical as the purpose is to relax and reduce anxiety, symptoms and the side effects of treatment (5).

A brief history of complementary therapies

For those new to considering complementary therapies it may be a surprise to find out that the roots of many holistic therapies go back 4000-5000 years across the Ancient Egyptian culture to the Indian subcontinent where one could find Ayurvedic medicine which is still practised today.

Chinese medicine (6) has more than 4000 years of history and is based on the philosophical concept of balance – yin and yang. In China they would pay their physicians to maintain their health not when they found themselves ill.

As the UK has been a destination for invaders, refugees, scholars, travellers and migrants part of this legacy is a diversity of health and medical practices that are today referred to as "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM). There has been much conflict in the past between conventional medicine and CAM practitioners and during the early twentieth century CAM was virtually outlawed in Britain. Nowadays the complementary/alternative health movement is accepted as part of modern life and increasing amounts of people are opening up to trying these therapies.

We will be ONLY focusing on the complementary therapies in this short book.