Energy-based therapies and cancer
Energy-based therapies are based on the theory that everyone has or is surrounded by a special energy, and that working on this can have health benefits. These therapies have no anti-cancer effects.
Some energy-based therapies rely on little, if any, physical contact for their effects; others involve touch or body movements.
Energy-based therapies are available in some hospitals. The benefits of these therapies vary from person to person and how they may work isn’t fully understood. They don’t have any anti-cancer effects but may be used to relieve symptoms or reduce anxiety. Their most common effects are relaxation and calming.
If you practise these therapies somewhere other than hospital, it’s important to check that the therapist or practitioner is trained and registered.
Acupuncture has its origins in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It’s based on the theory that there’s a system of life force (energy) channels in the body. The energy that’s believed to move along the channels is known as chi.
The therapist inserts fine sterile needles just below the skin to affect the flow of energy in the body. They place the needles along points in the energy channels to help release the flow of chi and restore health and balance in the body.
Acupuncture is widely available within the NHS. A professional acupuncturist may be a member of a team working in a pain clinic or part of a palliative care (symptom control) team. Some doctors, nurses and physiotherapists are trained in acupuncture. They usually practise western medical acupuncture, which is based on current medical knowledge and evidence-based medicine. People who practise western medical acupuncture believe that it works by stimulating the nervous system rather than by affecting the circulation of chi.
Acupuncture has been proven to be helpful in treating nausea after surgery or chemotherapy. Seabands (acubands), which work on a similar principle to acupuncture by applying pressure to a point on the wrist, may also be helpful in treating nausea.
There’s some evidence that acupuncture may be helpful in treating other problems, including pain, breathlessness and a dry mouth. Acupuncture is also sometimes used to treat menopausal symptoms, but it’s not yet clear how effective it is for this.
In general, when carried out by a trained professional, acupuncture is safe and side effects or complications are rare. However, it’s not advisable to have acupuncture if you:
have a lower than normal number of white blood cells or platelets in your blood
are having treatment that could affect your blood cell numbers
have a tendency to bleed easily.
If you have or are at risk of lymphoedema (swelling to a part of the body caused by damage to the lymphatic system) acupuncture may not be suitable for you, particularly in the limb that’s affected or at risk.
Check with your doctor if you’re considering acupuncture.
Reflexology is a form of foot or hand massage and is related to the Chinese practice of acupressure. Reflexologists believe that different areas on the feet or hands represent, and are connected to, the body’s internal organs.
Applying pressure to specific points in the feet or hands is thought to stimulate the flow of energy along channels in the body.
Reflexology may be used to try to improve various symptoms related to cancer, including feeling sick (nausea), tension, pain and fatigue. So far, research studies haven’t been able to prove that it’s effective when used in this way. But, there’s good evidence that reflexology can help people feel more relaxed and many people use it to help ease stress and anxiety.
You can get more information about reflexology and finding a registered practitioner from the Association of Reflexologists or the British Reflexology Association.
Shiatsu is a Japanese form of massage. It’s based on the belief that good health depends on the balanced flow of energy through specific channels (meridians) in the body. Pressure is placed on the meridians to help restore energy balance. The therapist may also gently stretch or hold areas of the body to reduce stiffness and soreness.
Many people find Shiatsu relaxing and energising and some people feel that it eases pain and other symptoms. It is important to take precautions, as with all types of massage.
You can get more information about Shiatsu and finding a registered practitioner from The Shiatsu Society.
Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us, and that they act as a channel through which healing energy flows into the patient. Some people find that healing provides important and valuable support. It may be referred to as spiritual or faith healing if it’s used in the context of a religious or spiritual approach to heal the person.
Contact healing may also be known as the ‘laying on of hands’ in the Christian church. In therapeutic touch, the healer works just above the surface of the body. They believe this affects an energy field that surrounds each person. Some nurses practise therapeutic touch.
You can get more information about healing and finding a spiritual healer from the The Healing Trust.
Reiki was developed in Japan and the word ‘Reiki’ is Japanese for ‘universal life energy’.
Reiki therapists believe that they act as a channel for energy, which is drawn into the person having the therapy according to their need. Neither person has to use any effort or concentration during the process. You don’t need to remove any clothing. You sit or lie down and the practitioner gently places their hands on or just above your body in a sequence of positions that cover the whole body. Each position is held for about 2-5 minutes or until the practitioner feels that the flow of energy has slowed or stopped. A full treatment usually takes 30-60 minutes.
How have we created this information?
Read our statement about how we have written and reviewed our information about complementary therapies.