Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer

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Holistic Options to Relieve Breast Cancer Treatment Symptoms

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Breast cancer treatment can be nearly as daunting as a breast cancer diagnosis. People undergoing treatment can experience a number of side effects that leave them eager for something to reduce the unpleasantness. For some of them, certain complementary therapies may be just the ticket. They can’t cure the cancer, but they may bring a little relief and comfort.

Side Effects from Breast Cancer Treatment

After receiving your breast cancer diagnosis, your healthcare team outlined all the possible types of treatment. Included in that conversation was probably some mention of the potential side effects of those treatments. The list of potential side effects of breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy is a long one. Among the most common immediate side effects of breast cancer treatment are nausea and vomiting, pain, fatigue, insomnia or difficulty sleeping, and anxiety

However, many people also experience long-term side effects from their treatment. Those side effects can include all the aforementioned symptoms plus an uncomfortable type of swelling called lymphedema, headaches, bone loss, heart problems, musculoskeletal problems, menopausal symptoms, memory loss, infertility, and even some dental issues.

Any combination of those side effects can be a tough burden to shoulder. Your doctor may prescribe various medication to help you cope with some side effects. But you may be open to trying something new, something more holistic, to bring you some relief.

Holistic Options to Consider

There is no natural cure for breast cancer. But certain holistic therapies may help you cope with some of the side effects of whatever type of breast cancer treatment you are undergoing—or have undergone. These options are often called complementary therapies because they are used in tandem with conventional treatment but aren’t conventional treatment by themselves.

The following are generally considered safe and potentially helpful for many people looking for something to relieve some of their breast cancer treatment side effects:

  • Acupuncture. This ancient practice employs the use of tiny needles inserted in the skin to relieve nausea or pain.
  • Massage. Your muscles and tendons can get all knotted up, but a massage therapist can knead them into a more relaxed state.
  • Relaxation techniques. These can help reduce your anxiety and stress levels. Embracing these techniques may also help you sleep better and feel less fatigued.
  • Aromatherapy. Inhaling the scent of oils may provide a sense of calm—and in some cases, the aromas may even quell some of your nausea. (Be careful about putting any oils directly on your skin, as they could cause an allergic reaction.)
  • Hypnosis. A practitioner can guide you into a deep state of calm, which may help you feel less pain and anxiety.
  • Meditation. Some people find reserving some time and space to meditate quietly helps them focus less on pain or other troublesome side effects they may be experiencing.
  • Yoga. Yoga emphasizes the importance of the breath, which can help calm and soothe you and reduce fatigue. You might even find you sleep better at night. Some forms of yoga are more strenuous than others, however, so you might get your doctor to weigh in on the best variation to try.
  • Tai chi. Like yoga, tai chi uses gentle movements and deep breathing to help you feel calm and centered. It can also help you maintain flexibility. But don’t do anything that causes you any pain.

Consult Your Oncology Team

As with any type of complementary or holistic therapy, it’s a good idea to discuss the idea with your oncology team first. Some of the holistic options, like meditation or relaxation techniques, are considered safe for almost anyone. But other treatments may not be appropriate for you, based on the specific cancer treatment you’re undergoing, your side effects or other factors. Or you may need to find a licensed practitioner, such as licensed acupuncturist, a process that may require you to do some homework. Consider consulting the Society for Integrative Oncology’s 2017 guidelines about complementary therapies for more information and then discuss the options with your doctor. Get the green light before deciding what to try.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Alternative cancer treatments: 10 options to consider. Mayo Clinic.

  2. Breast Cancer: Treatment Options. American Society of Clinical Oncology.

  3. Complementary & Holistic Medicine.

  4. Greenlee H, et al. Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Use of Integrative Therapies as Supportive Care in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer. Society for Integrative Oncology.

  5. Treatment Side Effects.