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Complementary and alternative therapy research

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This page tells you about research into complementary therapies and cancer care. You can find out about


Complementary therapy research in the UK

The Palliative and Supportive Care Clinical Studies Development Group set up by the National Cancer Research Institute encourages and oversees research into complementary therapies in the UK. It also plays a big part in helping to increase the amount of research into this area. 

The UK Clinical Research Network website has a UK clinical research database, which includes details of complementary therapy trials that are open and recruiting patients. There is a link to a guide for using the database at the top of the page.

You can also find details of complementary therapy trials in the UK on our clinical trials database. Type 'complementary therapies' into the search box. 

If you want to find out about research into a specific type of complementary or alternative therapy, look at the page about the specific type of therapy in our individual therapies section

Currently in the UK, studies are looking at the following issues. Apart from the studies we mention here, there are many other studies going on in universities, cancer centres and units around the UK. Many studies may be quite small, but bringing all their results together will help define the role of complementary therapies in cancer care.

Herbal medicines and supplements for cancer

One study is finding out about which type of herbal medicines and dietary supplements people with cancer use. It also wants to find out about the potential risks and benefits and whether the therapies react with cancer drug treatments. The trial has now closed and we are waiting for results.

You can find out about the study into herbal medicine and dietary supplement use by people with cancer.

Acupuncture for a dry mouth

The Arix trial is a phase III trial testing whether group acupuncture can help with a dry mouth. It is for people who have a dry mouth due to radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. People in the trial have acupuncture treatment in a group setting. They also have information about other ways of coping with a dry mouth. The study is looking at whether the acupuncture makes people produce more saliva and whether it helps them to feel better. 

You can read about the Arix study on the UK Clinical Research Network website.

Complementary therapies and survival

The DietCompLyf study aims to find out if diet, complementary therapies and lifestyle factors have an effect on breast cancer survival. Breast cancer survival rates vary from country to country and researchers think this may be due to differences in diet and lifestyle. This study wants to find out how a group of chemicals found in plants, called phytoestrogens, affect survival after breast cancer. It also wants to find out whether having a healthy lifestyle and using complementary therapies could help to improve survival in people with breast cancer. 

The researchers are looking at the diet and lifestyle of 3,000 women with breast cancer. The first phase of the study found that women often change their diet after a diagnosis of breast cancer. It now aims to find out whether phytoestrogens, lifestyle factors and using supplements affect whether breast cancer comes back (recurs) or gets worse (progresses).

You can get detailed information about the DietCompLyf study.

Mindfulness based stress reduction for men with prostate cancer

One study is looking at whether mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce depression and anxiety in men having monitoring for prostate cancer. 

There are details of the MBSR study for prostate cancer on the UK Clinical Research Network website. 

Mindfulness based stress reduction for advanced breast cancer

Another study is looking at mindfulness as a way of reducing stress. The researchers hope it will reduce tiredness (fatigue), anxiety and depression in women who have breast cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (secondary breast cancer). The trial has closed and we are waiting for results.

You can read about the mindfulness study for breast cancer on our clinical trials database.

Osteopathy treatment for pain after breast cancer surgery

An international trial is looking at whether osteopathy can help to reduce pain after breast cancer surgery. 

Find out more about this trial on the clinical website

Reflexology for arm swelling after breast cancer

A UK study is looking at reflexology to manage swelling of the arm (lymphoedema) after breast cancer treatment. Reflexology is applying pressure and massage to your feet and hands. The trial has closed and we are waiting for results.

You can read about the study of reflexology for lymphoedema on our clinical trials database.


International complementary and alternative therapy research

In the USA the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has a database of complementary and alternative therapy clinical trials. It includes trials for people with different types of cancer that aim to help to control the side effects of cancer and its treatments. Although these are not UK trials, we have included a link to NCCAM because the trials may be of interest to some people seeking information from around the world. 

Also in the USA, the Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (OCCAM) has information about recent trials into CAMs.

You can find out about some European CAM research on the European Information Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.

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Updated: 27 October 2014