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Complementary therapies

Find out more about complementary therapies and things to bear in mind if you use them.

1. What are complementary therapies?

Complementary therapies are used alongside conventional breast cancer treatments (treatments that have been approved for use in medical practice, such as or ).

There are many different types of complementary therapies which may fall into the following groups:

  • Touch therapies (such as acupuncture and reflexology)
  • Mind-body therapies (such as aromatherapy and meditation)
  • Herbs and plant extracts

2. What are alternative therapies?

Complementary therapies can often be confused with alternative therapies, but they are not the same.

Unlike complementary therapies, alternative therapies are used instead of medical treatment.

Some alternative therapies claim to treat or even cure cancer, but there’s often no scientific evidence to show these therapies can cure or slow down the growth of cancer.

In some cases, they can be unsafe and cause harmful side effects.

Always speak to your treatment team if you’re considering using any alternative therapies.

3. What are the benefits of complementary therapies for people with breast cancer?

Complementary therapies can have a range of benefits for people with breast cancer. They may give you comfort and help you feel more relaxed when coming to terms with the physical and emotional effects of breast cancer and its treatment.

You may find complementary therapies help you:

  • Cope with symptoms of breast cancer and side effects of treatment
  • Feel less anxious
  • Sleep better
  • Feel more positive and in control

With the right therapy and therapist, you may find complementary therapies can offer much needed extra support before, during and after your treatment for breast cancer.

4. Are complementary therapies safe for people with breast cancer?

Most complementary therapies are safe for people with breast cancer. However, if you are considering complementary therapies, speak to your treatment team first.

Your treatment team may advise you to avoid certain complementary therapies if there’s a chance they may interact with your breast cancer treatment.

5. How to choose a complementary therapy

There are lots of different types of complementary therapies.

You might need to try a couple before you find one that’s suitable for you.

When deciding what complementary therapy to try, it may help to think about:

  • If the therapy is safe for you
  • How it might benefit you
  • If the therapist is experienced in working with cancer patients
  • The availability of the therapy and if it is local to you
  • How much it costs
  • How many sessions you would like

You may also want to think about how comfortable you are with the way a therapy is given.

For example, for some therapies, such as massage, you will need to be partly undressed. An experienced complementary therapist will do their best to put you at ease.

6. How much do complementary therapies cost?

Complementary therapies offered by hospitals, cancer support centres, hospices and charities may be free or their cost may be based on what you can afford to pay.

If there are no free or low-cost therapies available locally, you may think about paying for a therapy yourself. The cost will vary with each therapist and the type of therapy you choose. It may be cheaper if you book several sessions at once.

7. Where to find a complementary therapist

Not all complementary therapies are regulated in the UK, so it’s important to find a therapist from a reliable source.

Some hospitals, cancer support centres, hospices and charities provide complementary therapies for free. Your breast care nurse or treatment team may be able to tell you more about this or give you a list of therapists in your area. You can also ask your GP or a local cancer support group for information on local therapists.

Cancer Research UK has a list of complementary therapy resources and organisations.

Breast Cancer Now does not approve or endorse third party organisations.

You may want to ask the therapist if they’ve worked with people diagnosed with breast cancer. Whoever you choose, it’s important you trust them and feel comfortable with the therapy plan they recommend.

If you do see a therapist, tell them about your breast cancer and any treatment you are having.

8. Further support

If you would like more information or have any questions about complementary therapies and breast cancer, you can talk to our helpline team using the number below.

You can also visit our online forum for emotional and practical support.

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Quality assurance

Last reviewed in July 2023. The next planned review begins in July 2026.

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