Holistic Help for Breast Cancer

More and more breast cancer survivors are using complementary medical techniques like acupuncture to deal with the side effects of treatment.
Holistic Help for Breast Cancer
Pin it courtesy of Shutterstock

A survey conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, found that 72 percent of survivors had tried at least one complementary method. In response,, a nonprofit informational website founded by breast cancer oncologist Marisa Weiss, M.D., has added a section that discusses 16 different modalities, from Reiki to guided imagery. The site also lists peer-reviewed, published studies showing the benefits-along with tips on how to find a practitioner. We looked into complementary techniques for three common chemotherapy side effects and spoke with real women to find out how well each worked.

Symptom: Pain
Technique: Massage
Results: A study of 230 cancer patients published in Integrative Cancer Therapies found that people who received one 45-minute therapeutic massage session per week for a month felt less pain and took about eight fewer doses of pain medication than those in the control group.
One Woman's Story: "After a mastectomy and lymph node removal, I'd often wake up at night from intense pain in my arm and shoulder. I began weekly massage sessions and felt immediate relief. My therapist knew exactly how to relax the whole area." -Linda Osbourne, Fort Meyers, Fla.

Symptom: Nausea
Technique: Acupuncture
Results: A study of 104 cancer patients published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who took anti-nausea medication had three times as many episodes of nausea and vomiting as women who used anti-nausea medication in conjunction with daily electroacupuncture treatments (the needles were connected to a mild electric current).
One Woman's Story: "I was concerned about nausea, so three weeks before chemotherapy, I began acupuncture sessions. It did the trick-I was only slightly queasy the first day and didn't feel sick to my stomach at all." -Marsha Benningfield, Ocala, Fla.

Symptom: Fatigue
Technique: Yoga
Results: An M.D. Anderson Cancer Center study of 61 breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy found that women who went to twice-weekly yoga classes for six weeks had more energy and an easier time with everyday tasks like climbing stairs and carrying groceries than women in the control group.
One Woman's Story: "I was so fatigued during radiation treatment that I would go back to bed after getting my kids off to school. Most housework was out of the question. After just two weeks of doing yoga, I felt more energized and ready to tackle my day." -Cydne Connor, Madison, WI