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Complementary Therapies

Many people view complementary therapies as a positive choice they can make to manage the effects of cancer. Complementary therapies are usually used alongside conventional therapies. They aren’t used to cure cancer but may help to boost physical and emotional well being.

Most doctors are happy for their patients to use complementary therapies but its important that you tell your hospital specialist if you are thinking of having any form of complementary therapy, especially if it involves taking herbs, pills or medicines.

In this section we provide a brief introduction to complementary therapies and information about how you might access complementary therapies as a cancer patient in North Wales.

Cancer and Complementary Therapies
Choosing a Therapy
Accessing Complementary Therapies

Cancer and Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies include a wide range of health related practices, which are used alongside conventional cancer treatments. They are not given with the aim of curing disease but rather to support physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. They can help:

  • Ease pain and reduce physical tension and stiffness
  • Relieve the side effects of treatments and assist with symptom control
  • Provide time to relax, talk and share any worries in a safe environment
  • Promote relaxation and reduce the emotional stress of diagnosis and treatment
  • Empower people to feel more in control and able to cope
  • Increase the sense of wellbeing and improve quality of life
  • Motivate people to move on from cancer

Practitioners are trained in specific therapies such as massage, shiatsu, acupuncture, reflexology, aromatherapy, reiki, nutrition or healing. Practitioners may also have well developed counselling skills and in addition may offer support with breathing techniques, relaxation, imagery and meditation to calm the mind.

Complementary Therapies most commonly used in cancer care include:

Acupuncture – The insertion of fine, sterile needles in the skin at carefully chosen points which relate to the Chinese Medicine meridian system. Most people do not find the treatment painful although there is a definite sensation.

Aromatherapy – Diluted plant oils, chosen by the therapist to suit individual needs, are gently massaged into the skin. You may have to remove some clothing during their treatment. Oils may also be recommended for inhalation or use in the bath.

Art Therapy – Art therapy allows you to explore your feelings which may be difficult to express in words through drawing or painting. Anyone can benefit from this therapy, you do not have to be good at art or even to have tried it before.

Healing – This is the flow of healing energy through the healer to allow your body’s own self healing mechanisms to work more effectively. It does not require a religious faith or belief and you do not have to remove your clothing.

Homeopathy – This is a system of medicine based on treating ‘like with like’. Appropriate remedies will be prescribed in the form of tablets, powder or drops over a period of time to stimulate the body’s own natural healing system.

Hypnotherapy – The therapist will gently take you into a deep state of relaxation so that you can be helped to let your mind float onto things you might wish to change and ways to do this reducing anxious thoughts. You will remain fully clothed and conscious.

Massage – This is one of the earliest forms of powerful touch therapy. It helps to release physical tension in the body which can lead to mental and emotional release and a feeling of wellbeing. You may be asked to remove some clothing.

Nutritional therapy – This includes dietary advice, herbs and supplements.

Reflexology – It is believed that different areas of the hands and feet are linked with different parts of the body. The reflexologist will assess any imbalances and by applying light but firm pressure, generally to the feet, bring the body back into balance.

Reiki – This is a simple form of healing which originated in Japan. You will be asked to lie or sit, fully clothed, and the therapist will gently place their hands over or on your body in areas where they feel it is most needed. Reiki is not linked to any belief system.

Shiatsu – A healing touch therapy based on the same principles as acupuncture but using hands instead of needles. The body is worked on fully clothed and a session may provide the opportunity to learn breathing, relaxation and imagery techniques and discuss possible lifestyle changes to improve overall wellbeing.

Writing Therapy – This can provide a creative outlet for the emotional stress. It may be in journal form, poetry or just random thoughts expressed in writing.

Choosing a Therapy

The website healthtalkonline.com has interviewed people about their experiences of complementary therapies and cancer and might help you decide whether a particular therapy could be beneficial for you.

Macmillan Cancer Support provides detailed information about the use of complementary therapies by cancer patients and also produces a very good booklet ‘Cancer and Complementary Therapies’ which can be ordered free of charge from the website or accessed from your local Macmillan Information and Support Centre.

Accessing Complementary Therapies

Complementary therapies are not routinely provided by cancer services in North Wales but the following information may prove useful.

Alaw Cancer Treatment Unit, Ysbyty Gwynedd

A complementary therapy service is currently offered to patients attending the Alaw Cancer Treatment Unit (resourced by charitable funds). A Complementary Therapies Specialist Nurse offers hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques, reflexology and aromatherapy and has particular expertise in working with patients undergoing chemotherapy.


Mindfulness is a way of learning to be more present and aware. A number of Mindfulness programmes are run specifically for cancer patients in North Wales. They offer opportunities to enjoy life more, and to relate to difficulties a differently. For more information about Mindfulness programmes please click here.

Hospice Day Care Units

The range of services provided by Hospices has increased greatly over recent years. Hospices are no longer just for the last days of life and offer a wide range of support services, often alongside active treatment for cancer and other conditions.

All the Hospice Day Care Units in North Wales provide complementary therapies. You can be referred through a member of your healthcare team or you can contact the Hospice directly if you feel that any of the facilities may be useful for you.

Please go to our section on Hospice Day Units to find more details of their complementary therapy services.

Support Groups

A number of support groups in North Wales offer complementary therapies at their meetings. Please go to our section on Support Groups for more details.

If you are interested in complementary therapies ‘North Wales Cancer Care’ may be of particular interest. This voluntary organisation has a focus on the use of complementary therapies alongside conventional cancer treatments and has set up a partnership with practitioners across North Wales who are trained to offer therapies to people affected by cancer.

For more information about ‘North Wales Cancer Care’ please contact:

Sheila Smith
07851 792 014

Choosing a complementary therapist

If you are choosing a complementary therapist it’s important to use a registered practitioner who is fully qualified in their own therapy. Complementary therapists should:

  • Hold full membership of an appropriate professional body
  • Ideally be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council
  • Have full practitioner indemnity insurance
  • Specialise in using their therapies in cancer care

Feeling comfortable and able to build up a rapport with the therapist is equally important.

Cancer Research UK provides a directory of organisations and websites that deal specifically with complementary therapies and cancer care.

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