Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Along with mainstream medical treatment for blood cancer, many people embrace other healing methods and practices that are non-traditional. These are collectively referred to as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

There are many reasons why some people with blood cancer choose to incorporate CAM approaches. Some are looking for ways to ease the side effects of traditional medicines, like those from chemotherapy. Others are looking for ways to take a more active role in their care.

Many doctors and hospitals take an integrated approach to care, bringing together traditional and complementary medicine to treat people with blood cancer. Integrated programs may offer services such as massage, acupuncture, and meditation to help people with cancer manage their symptoms and cope with side effects from treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.1

Before using any CAM methods, it is important to discuss them with your doctor. They can help ensure they do not interfere with your standard treatments. However, many CAM methods can often be used along with traditional therapies.

What is the difference between complementary and alternative medicines?

While the terms "complementary medicine" and "alternative medicine" are sometimes used interchangeably, they actually differ in how they are applied. Complementary medicine is the use of a non-mainstream approach in combination with traditional treatment. Alternative medicine is using non-mainstream approaches instead of traditional treatment.1

Some CAM approaches are provided by people with formal training or certifications. Others may be offered by people with informal or no training. When considering adding CAM therapies to your treatment regimen, it is important to keep in mind that many of these approaches have not been studied. While many people believe that CAM therapies are safe and do not have harmful side effects, that is not always true. It is critical to share with your doctors all the approaches you are considering using. This is because some CAM can reduce the effectiveness of traditional medicine or may cause other serious problems.2

Types of complementary and alternative medicine methods

There are many complementary approaches that people with blood cancer may use to support their health, including:


Yoga is a mind/body practice that began in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga. They usually combine physical poses, breathing methods, meditation, and relaxation.1

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is a broad term that covers several different hands-on methods in which a therapist manipulates the muscles and soft tissues of the body.1


Acupuncture involves the use of thin, metallic needles placed in particular areas of the body. Acupuncture is one of the main components of traditional Chinese medicine. It has been practiced in some Asian countries for thousands of years.1


Aromatherapy uses essential oils that are distilled from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees). They have distinct fragrances. Essential oils are used to potentially help improve physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.3


Hypnosis is a type of therapy in which a person gives consent to enter into an altered state of consciousness. During this state, the therapist can make suggestions to change perceptions, thoughts, or actions to help the person. It may be used by people with cancer to cope with the side effects of treatments, reduce emotional stress, and reduce the severity of symptoms from cancer.4

Breathing exercises

Breathing exercises are a type of relaxation method that can help reduce anxiety and stress. Breathing exercises involve taking slow, deep, and even breaths to help relax and calm the mind.5

Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about a potential CAM therapy. As with any treatment approach, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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