Healing and cancer

Healing is also known as spiritual healing or energy healing. It is a type of mind and body therapy. There is no reliable scientific evidence to support its use as a cancer treatment.


  • Healing involves the channelling of energy, that healers believe can heal you
  • There is no reliable scientific evidence to say it works as a treatment for cancer
  • There are no reported side effects

What is healing?

The practice of healing is thousands of years old. Some spiritual healers claim that the energy comes from a divine source. Other healers see it as a universal energy.

Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us. They think they can channel this energy. This relaxes you and fills you with energy. It also helps you to use your own natural self-healing abilities. Through this process, you can restore your balance and health and well-being. They believe that this, in turn, helps your immune system to heal itself.

For example, healers say that your body already knows how to deal with illness, cuts and injuries. Healing helps stimulate your body to heal itself.

Another theory is that love and care create energy. This can encourage your spirit to change the process of your disease. So, for example, to shrink a tumour.

Types of healing

There are different types of healing:

Contact healing

This is where the healer touches your body and is also known as the laying on of hands.

Therapeutic touch

Practitioners go into a meditative state and pass their hands above your body. This way they can find and correct any imbalances in the energy.

Absent healing

You don’t have to be face to face with your healer for this as they send healing energy to you from a distance.

Faith healing

The healer uses prayer.

Why people with cancer use it

Healing is one of the most common types of complementary therapy that people with cancer use. Some people say it helps them feel more in control of their situation.

Healers promote this type of therapy as a natural way to help you relax and cope with:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • depression

They also hope that it might control other symptoms and side effects of cancer, such as:

  • pain
  • sickness
  • tiredness (fatigue)

Many people with cancer who use healing say that it helps them feel better. This can be because a therapist spends time with them and comforts them in a calm environment. It can be relaxing to be away from the rush and stress of hospitals and treatment.

Scientific evidence does not support healing as a treatment for cancer. But many people say that it can increase peace of mind, reduce stress, and relieve pain and anxiety. It may also strengthen the will to live. Some studies support this.

How you have it

You might see a healer on your own or as part of a group. If you see the healer in private, they will ask you questions. They will want to know about your medical history and how you are feeling.

For the treatment you’ll need to wear loose or comfortable clothing, and either sit in a chair or lie down on a couch. You can take your shoes off.

Sessions usually lasts between 20 to 30 minutes but can vary. The healer usually stays silent during the sessions. They may play some relaxing music in the background.

During the treatment, the healer will pass their hands over the top of your body. They may use light touch in places.

Both you and the healer might feel a variety of sensations, including:

  • changes in the temperature of your body
  • tingling
  • pressure
  • gentle throbbing of parts of your body

But some people don’t feel anything. You may find that some very strong emotions come to the surface during a session of healing. This will not surprise your healer. They will be there to support you.

Many people say that they feel very sleepy and relaxed during and after the treatment. The next day you might feel full of energy. Sometimes you can feel some effect in one session. But more often than not, any improvement is gradual.

You can have distant healing when you are far away from the healer. Even without you knowing that the healer is thinking of you.

Side effects

There are no reports of any side effects from people who use healing. It is a safe therapy to use.

But, some experts say you should use it with caution if you have uncontrolled epilepsy. In theory, the deep relaxation it can bring on, could cause a seizure (fit) in some people.

Tell your doctor about any complementary or alternative therapy you are using. And tell your healer about your cancer treatment. 

Remember that you might also feel disappointed if you don’t feel any benefit from the healing.

Research into healing for cancer

There is no scientific evidence to prove healing can prevent or cure any disease, including cancer. But it may help to lower stress, relieve symptoms and promote relaxation.

American researchers did a study in 2018. They looked at how adults with a recent cancer diagnosis used complementary therapies. They found that about 26% (26 out of every 100) of women with breast cancer used mind and body therapies. Healing is a type of mind and body therapy.

People with bowel cancer were least likely to use mind and body therapies. Only about 9% (9 out of every 100) of people used it.   

Using healing alongside your cancer treatment is safe. Many doctors accept healing as a useful complementary therapy for some conditions.

Healing and other medical conditions

In 2012 researchers reviewed 4 trials. They looked at whether therapeutic touch could help wounds from minor surgery heal. Two trials seemed to show better wound healing. One showed no difference. The other showed worse wound healing.

The reviewers said that therapeutic touch did not heal wounds from minor surgery.

In 2018 researchers looked at healing therapy in a randomised controlled study Open a glossary item. They looked at people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The researchers found that healing therapy improved symptoms. It also improved quality of life in people with IBS. It was less helpful for people with IBD.

Healing and cancer symptoms

Some small studies have looked at therapeutic touch. They wanted to see if it can help with cancer treatment side effects. Results show that it might help. But as the studies were small, we need more research to know for certain.

Long term hormone therapy can cause side effects that make some women stop taking it. In 2012 researchers looked at how spiritual healing could help with these side effects.

12 women had healing therapy every week for 10 weeks. The researchers found they had fewer treatment side effects. They also had higher energy levels, better well-being, and more emotional relaxation. And they started to take part in activities that they had given up since their cancer diagnosis.

The researchers said that spiritual healing might support patients with breast cancer. This was when they had long term cancer treatments. But we need bigger studies to see how much it can help.

In 2018 researchers did an observational study on people with cancer pain. They used healing touch and a type of massage called oncology(cancer) massage in the study. The researchers found that healing touch and massage helped to relieve pain immediately.

How much it costs

Healers often offer free treatment. Some healers may ask for a small donation to their charity. Healers working privately may charge you for a session.

It is important that you have your treatments with a qualified healer.

A word of caution

Find a well-trained and qualified healer if you decide you want to have healing.

At the moment there is no single professional organisation that regulates healers in the UK. Healers can join several associations. But they are not required by law to do so. They also don’t need to finish any specific training.

Most reputable healers will belong to a healing organisation. Contact one of the organisations listed below to ask for a list of healers in your area.

Avoid healers who tell you that they can cure you. No reputable healer should make this claim.

Questions to ask your therapist

  • How many years of training have you had?
  • How long have you been practising?
  • Have you had training for treating and supporting people with cancer?
  • Do you have indemnity insurance? (in case of negligence)

Useful organisations

UK Healers aims to develop standards of training and good practice for all healers. They aim to become the professional regulatory body for healers in the UK with a register of qualified healers. There is a full list of healing organisations on their website.

Email: admin@ukhealers.info

The Healing Trust provides training for healers and a qualification in healing which takes 2 years to complete. You can also use their website to find a healer near you.

Phone: 01604 603247

CNHC is the UK regulator for complementary healthcare practitioners. It protects the public by giving them access to a list of practitioners who have met national standards of competence and practice. Registered practitioners can use the CNHC quality mark on certificates and publicity materials. Most NHS services only use CNHC registered practitioners.

PO Box 428
Bristol BS9 0FB

Phone: 020 3327 2720 
Email: info@cnhc.org.uk

The Federation of Holistic Therapists is the leading professional association for complementary therapists. They have a register of therapists who are qualified, insured, and who follow the FHT strict Code of Conduct and Professional Practice.

18 Shakespeare Business Centre
Hathaway Close
SO50 4SR

Phone: 023 8062 4350
Email: info@fht.org.uk

  • The Use of Complementary Health Approaches Among U.S. Adults with a Recent Cancer Diagnosis
    T Clarke
    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2018. Volume 24, Issue 2

  • Effect of therapeutic touch in patients with cancer: a literature review
    A. Tabatabaee and others
    Medical Archives, 2016. Volume 70, Issue 2, Pages 142-7  

  • Cancer Pain Relief After Healing Touch and Massage
    D Gentile
    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2018. Volume 24, Issue 9-10

  • A pragmatic randomised controlled trial of healing therapy in a gastroenterology outpatient setting
    R Leea and others
    European Journal of Integrative Medicine, 2017. Volume 9, Pages 110-119

  • Effects of Spiritual Healing for Women Undergoing Long-Term Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer: A Qualitative Investigation
    F Barlow and others, 2013
    The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 19, Issue 3

  • Therapeutic touch for healing acute wounds.
    DP O'Mathúna and RL Ashford
    Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, 2012.

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in.

  • Effect of therapeutic touch in patients with cancer: a literature review
    A. Tabatabaee and others
    Medical Archives, 2016. Volume 70, Issue 2, Pages 142-7  

Last reviewed: 
14 Oct 2022
Next review due: 
14 Oct 2025

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