Together we will beat cancer


MassageHokum and snake oil? Or an important part of a holistic approach to cancer treatment?

Complementary therapy has an uneasy reputation within the medical profession, thanks in part to the difficulty of carrying out scientifically sound clinical trials of the treatments.

While there is no data to suggest that complementary therapies can cure cancer, there is a growing body of research-based evidence to show that some therapies can improve a patient’s quality of life, alongside conventional cancer treatment.

One piece of evidence comes in the form of a recent paper from Professor Amanda Ramirez, director of the Cancer Research UK London Psychosocial Oncology Group. She’s been carrying out a trial to investigate the short and long-term benefits of aromatherapy massage for people undergoing cancer treatment.

The researchers found that patients given four sessions of massage had measurably lower levels of depression and anxiety, compared to those who received none. But the benefits lasted only two weeks and didn’t persist in the long term. However, even a short-term improvement in the wellbeing of a person with cancer is still an improvement, and warrants further investigation.

These results also stand up to scientific scrutiny. Not only is Professor Ramirez’s trial randomised , but the team ended up with more than 100 patients in each trial arm – enough to make the results statistically significant. Carrying out robust trials of complementary treatments will always be difficult – for example, how do you give a placebo massage? But research such as this will help to prove the benefits of certain therapies to potentially sceptical doctors.


Hear more about complementary therapy in the March Cancer Research UK podcast.

Read the abstract of the paper.

More information on complementary and alternative therapy for people with cancer from CancerHelp UK.


Caroline Blundell August 18, 2010

Hi Fiona
I teach complementary therpaies and was particularly interested in your passion for therapies and agree with your comments at the lack of knowledge. I just wondered if you have started your own blog? I would be very keen to read and I know your experience would be of great benefit to the students. It would be great if you could let me know if you did start your blog. As part of my job we had a training day at Christies and was extremely impressed with the support they provide.
I teach at Loreto Sixth form in Manchester.
Not sure if this message will reach you.
Many thanks in advance
Kind Regards

Fiona Heath November 24, 2008

Just thinking of starting my own blog and came across yours.
I am very passionate about the use of COMPLEMENTARY therapies in cancer care. I went through breast cancer 9 years ago (surgery, chemo and radiotherapy). Had every side effect known (according to Dr Spooner at the QE in Birmingham) and went down to 6 stone 8 lbs. The only interventions to help were complementary therapies – I tried several, but reflexology had instant results with the constipation and sickness, Reiki energy channelling had miraculous effects with my emotional state and stamina and even at such a low weight I never missed a chemo as I was getting all the nutrients I needed through juicing.
Having never experienced complementary therapies before I was so impressed I was at college learning reflexology even before chemo had finished. Over the years I have developed these skills and cannot praise Christie’s Hospital in Manchester enough for the quality of their complementary therapy courses, tailoring them specifically to cancer care.
The advantages of reflexology as a non-invasive, gentle, pleasant therapy include:
* has been shown to lower blood pressure and pulse rate
* has been shown to boost the immune system
* has been shown to lower stress hormones (when administered just prior to an operation this can result in less bleeding during procedure and enhance healing)
* can help with pain
* can help with muscle tension
* can help to optimise liver function helping detoxification
* can boost energy levels
* can help to improve appetite
* can help with side effects of chemo – constipation, diarrhoea, nausea
* ensures rapid improvement in physical health post treatment
Emotionally therapies have been shown to
* relieve stress, fear, anxiety and promote relaxation
* can help to manage depression
* can teach relaxation techniques/coping strategies
* improves sleep
* provides one to one approach/opportunity to offload

These treatments are exactly what they say – complementary – and surely they are more cost effective and a better solution all round to more pharmaceutical intervention to counteract side effects of treatments. I was disappointed at the lack of knowledge in the medical profession about complementary therapies and do feel a more integrated approach is the way forward. I talk to medical students at my local GP practice every year about therapies and the amount of time given to these during the whole of their medical training is again very disappointing.

There are strict guidelines in health care settings regarding the treatment of cancer patients and only a very few contraindications (e.g. low platelet count) and as long as patients seeking therapies in the private sector ensure the practitioner has additional qualifications in cancer care they can be assured of safe advice and treatment.

Simon August 10, 2007

I agree, it’s difficult to give a placebo massage. But it’s possible to give a massage using only carrier oils, or indeed no oil at all, rather than an aromatherapy massage. Do you know whether that’s been trialled? It seems to me that it’s the additional human contact that might make the biggest difference in quality of life, rather than anything specific to aromatherapy. Indeed, one of the related links from the abstract (sorry, don’t know how to create links here) did something similar with exactly that result.