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Natural Treatments for Cancer Pain

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Updated July 27, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Pain is a common problem for people coping with cancer. Although pain is most often caused by the cancer itself, it can also occur as a side effect of certain cancer treatments (such as radiation or chemotherapy). Since untreated pain can lead to complications like depression, anxiety, fatigue, and stress, it's important to talk to your health-care provider about strategies for managing cancer pain.

Natural Relief for Cancer Pain

A number of alternative treatments may help control cancer pain, according to the American Cancer Society. Here's a look at several approaches to managing cancer pain naturally:

1) Guided Imagery

Some research suggests that guided imagery (a technique that involves achieving deep relaxation by imagining yourself in a peaceful place) may help reduce pain resulting from cancer treatments. Practicing guided imagery may also help lessen anxiety and improve sleep in people dealing with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

See Using Guided Imagery For Stress Relief.

2) Biofeedback

In biofeedback training, patients work with specialized electronic devices and learn to control bodily functions that are usually unconscious (such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure). Studies indicate that biofeedback may enhance pain management in people with cancer-related pain, possibly due to its ability to help patients relax and cope with their pain.

More about Biofeedback.

3) Hypnosis

An altered state of consciousness marked by deep relaxation and focused attention, hypnosis is sometimes induced to block a patient's awareness of his or her pain. In a 2007 study of 200 women undergoing surgery for breast cancer, for instance, researchers found that those who underwent hypnosis prior to surgery reported lower pain levels afterward (compared to study members who spoke with a psychologist before their surgery).

Learn more about Hypnosis and find out Hypnosis and Cancer.

4) Massage Therapy

Massage therapy appears to be a safe and effective means of reducing cancer-related pain, according to a report published in 2006. However, individuals undergoing radiation therapy should avoid receiving massage in the treatment area (as well as in any red, raw, tender, or swollen areas). What's more, manipulation of bone in an area of cancer metastasis could cause a fracture, while massage during chemotherapy could increase risk of bruising.

Learn more about massage therapy and cancer treatment.

5) Acupuncture

Some research indicates that receiving acupuncture may help reduce pain intensity among cancer patients. If you're undergoing chemotherapy, however, it's critical to consult your doctor before starting acupuncture.

Learn more about acupuncture and acupuncture and cancer treatment.

Should You Try a Natural Treatment for Cancer Pain?

Before integrating any natural remedies or alternative therapies into your health routine, you should talk to your doctor about whether the treatment is safe and suitable for you. Furthermore, since pain can sometimes signal a serious cancer-related problem (such as infection or the spread of the cancer), it's important to alert your doctor of any new pain problems.

To make the most of pain-reducing alternative therapies, ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist who can guide you through managing your cancer pain naturally.

Sources:

Alimi D, Rubino C, Pichard-Léandri E, Fermand-Brulé S, Dubreuil-Lemaire ML, Hill C. "Analgesic effect of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain: a randomized, blinded, controlled trial." J Clin Oncol. 2003 15;21(22):4120-6.

American Cancer Society. "Pain Control: A Guide for People with Cancer and Their Families". October 2009.

Calenda E. "Massage therapy for cancer pain." Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2006 10(4):270-4.

Montgomery GH, Bovbjerg DH, Schnur JB, David D, Goldfarb A, Weltz CR, Schechter C, Graff-Zivin J, Tatrow K, Price DD, Silverstein JH. "A randomized clinical trial of a brief hypnosis intervention to control side effects in breast surgery patients." J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007 5;99(17):1304-12.

Syrjala KL, Donaldson GW, Davis MW, Kippes ME, Carr JE. "Relaxation and imagery and cognitive-behavioral training reduce pain during cancer treatment: a controlled clinical trial." Pain. 1995 63(2):189-98.

Tsai PS, Chen PL, Lai YL, Lee MB, Lin CC. "Effects of electromyography biofeedback-assisted relaxation on pain in patients with advanced cancer in a palliative care unit." Cancer Nurs. 2007 30(5):347-53.

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