Complementary and Alternative Therapies

In addition to mainstream medical treatment for blood cancer, many people embrace additional healing techniques and practices that are non-traditional, which are collectively referred to as complementary and alternative medicine or CAM. It is important that patients tell their doctors about any complementary practices they are considering taking part in to ensure that nothing interferes negatively with their treatment, however, many of these approaches can often be used along with traditional therapies.

There are a number of reasons why some people with blood cancer choose to incorporate CAM approaches. Some are looking for ways to ease side effects of traditional medicines (like side effects from chemotherapy), while others are looking for ways to take a more active role in their healthcare.

What is the difference between complimentary 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, but others may be offered by people with informal or no training. When considering adding CAM therapies to your treatment regimen, it's important to keep in mind that many of these approaches have not been studied. Although many people believe that CAM therapies are safe and do not have harmful side effects, that is not always true. It's critical to share with your doctors all the approaches you are considering using, as some CAM can reduce the effectiveness of traditional medicine or may cause other serious problems.2

Patients should talk to their doctor if they have any questions, or if they have questions regarding a potential CAM therapy. As with any treatment approach, patients should tell their doctor about all their health conditions, as well as any medications (prescription and over-the-counter), herbal supplements, and vitamins they are taking.

Many doctors and hospitals take an integrated approach to healthcare, 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 cancer patients manage their symptoms and cope with side effects from treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.1

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 and body practice that originated in ancient India. There are several practices in yoga, usually combining physical poses, breathing techniques, meditation, and relaxation.1

Massage therapy

Massage therapy is a broad term that covers several different hands-on techniques 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 in traditional Chinese medicine and has been practiced in certain Asian countries for thousands of years.1


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


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

Breathing exercises

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

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: October 2020