Reiki and cancer

Reiki is a type of energy healing and is a complementary therapy. It is sometimes used as a palliative or supportive therapy for people with cancer. 


  • The Japanese word Reiki means universal energy.
  • It aims to relax you, ease stress and tension and help with well being.
  • There is no scientific evidence that reiki can help prevent, treat or cure cancer.

What is Reiki?

Reiki is a Japanese healing art that was developed by Mikao Usui in Japan in the early 20th century. It is pronounced ray-key. You might also hear it called Reiki energy, Usui system of Reiki and therapeutic touch. 

The Japanese word reiki means universal energy. Eastern medicine systems work with this energy, which they believe flows through all living things and is vital to well being. The energy is known as 'Ki' in Japan, 'Chi' in China and 'prana' in India. Reiki isn't part of any type of religion or belief system.

A reiki practitioner puts their hands on or near your clothed body. One of the main aims is to help you relax. A reiki practitioner aims to change and balance the ‘energy fields’ in and around your body.

Why people with cancer use it

Some people with cancer may use reiki alongside their treatment, as a complementary therapy. Reiki practitioners say that it can:

  • help you to feel deeply relaxed
  • help you cope with difficult situations
  • relieve emotional stress and tension
  • help to improve wellbeing

Some people with cancer say they feel more relaxed after using therapies such as reiki. Studies suggest that this is often because a therapist spends time with the person. Gentle touch in a calm setting can be relaxing. Reiki is sometimes used in palliative care, especially in hospices.

Although reiki might help you feel more relaxed and able to cope, it’s important to bear in mind reiki is not able to treat your cancer.

How you have it

On your first visit, your reiki practitioner will ask you about your general health and medical history. They will ask you why you would like to have reiki and discuss your treatment plan with you.

You don’t have to get undressed for treatment. You usually take your shoes and coat off and have it sitting or lying down. You can have your eyes open or closed.

Your reiki practitioner might dim the lights or play soothing music. They put their hands on, or a few inches above your body. They move their hands across your body, usually starting at your head and working down to your feet, but may focus on particular areas of the body.

The aim is to move and balance the 'energy' within and around your body. And to get rid of any energy blocks to encourage healing and strengthen your energy. You might feel a tingling sensation, a deep relaxation, or warmth or coolness throughout your body. Or, you might not feel anything at all. Practitioners say this doesn’t mean the treatment isn’t working.

A session usually lasts between 20 minutes and an hour. Many practitioners say you will get the best results from 3 sessions within a fairly short space of time. Then take a break before having more treatments.

You might feel thirsty after a session. It can help to drink plenty of water and avoid strong caffeine based drinks, such as coffee. You might feel deeply relaxed, and resting at home afterwards can help you get the full benefit of the treatment.

Reiki practitioners say that reiki can be sent remotely, over a distance. So you can be in your own home having reiki from a person elsewhere.

If you don’t feel comfortable with anything, it’s important to discuss this with your practitioner.

Side effects

Generally speaking, reiki is safe for most people with cancer. Most practitioners will advise you to rest and drink plenty of water after treatment. There are no reports of harmful side effects.

But it’s important to tell your doctor about any complementary therapy, alternative therapy or diet supplement that you use. Then your doctor will always have the full picture about your care and treatment.

Research into Reiki for people with cancer

There is no scientific evidence to show that reiki can prevent, treat or cure cancer, or any other disease. Only a small number of studies have looked at reiki and there were limitations to all the trials. This means they are not conclusive and we need further research.

Reiki for carers

A very small study in 2021 (42 people) gave reiki to people who were caring for a person with cancer. They had reiki once a week for 6 weeks. The study wanted to find out if reiki could lower stress levels in the carers. The authors concluded that the carers found caregiving less stressful after reiki.

Reiki for anxiety and pain control 

In 2014, a literature review looked at whether reiki could help with pain and anxiety. The authors reviewed information from various studies that had used reiki on people with cancer and people without cancer. 

Some of the people had recently had surgery so they wanted to see if reiki could help with pain after surgery. Others were about to have a breast biopsy and were feeling anxious. They found that after reiki, women having a breast biopsy had a reduction in their anxiety. And patients who had recently had surgery reported a decrease in their pain. 

There were only a small number of studies (7 studies in total). The authors concluded that reiki may be helpful for pain and anxiety. They suggest we need further studies with larger numbers of people. 

How much it costs

Some cancer centres and hospices in the UK offer free or low cost reiki for people with cancer. You can ask your nurse or doctor about this. If it isn’t available, they might be able to direct you to nearby organisations or support groups that do offer it.

Private reiki treatments usually cost from around £15 to £100 an hour. Treatments may be more expensive in bigger cities.

Finding a Reiki practitioner

It is vital that the person who gives you reiki is properly trained.

There are 3 different levels of reiki practitioners.

  • Level 1 means you can use reiki to treat yourself, family and friends but are not able to treat other people or charge money for treatment
  • Level 2 (also called practitioner level) means you have studied to a higher level and can use reiki to treat people
  • Level 3 means you are a reiki master or teacher

Anyone treating you should hold a minimum Level 2 reiki qualification. They should be registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) as a reiki practitioner.

There is no law to say that practitioners have to have any specific qualifications. But most reputable practitioners belong to a professional reiki association.

Look on the UK Reiki Federation website first for a list of practitioners in your area. Or use one of the other organisations listed below. Contact one or more of practitioners and check what level qualification and training they have.

A word of caution

Remember that reiki cannot cure your cancer.

It is a complementary therapy that aims to help support you during your cancer treatment and help with your general well being. 

Reiki organisations

These organisations can provide further information about reiki.

One of the largest professional associations for reiki in the UK. Offers support and guidance to reiki professionals and the public. Has a searchable database of reiki practitioners.

UK Reiki Federation
9 Barnfield Close
Old Coulsdon

Telephone: 0203 745 9746

The leading body for Reiki in the UK that represents professional associations. There is useful information and copies of the National Occupational Standards on their website.


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 

The FHT 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
Contact via online form 

  • CAM-Cancer website
    Accessed June 2022

  • Effect of Reiki on the stress level of caregivers of patients with cancer: Qualitative and single-blind randomized controlled trial
    U Özcan Yüce and S Taşcı
    Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 2021. Volume 58

  • 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  

  • Effect of reiki therapy on pain and anxiety in adults: An in depth literature review of randomised trials with effect size calculations
    S. Thrane and S. Cohen
    Pain Management Nursing. 2014. December 15(4):897-908

  • Self-efficacy for coping with cancer enhances the effect of Reiki treatments during the pre-surgery phase of breast cancer patients
    A Chirico and others
    Anticancer Research. 2017; 37: 3657-3665. 

  • Effects of reiki in clinical practice: a systematic review of randomised clinical trials.
    MS Lee and others, 2008
    International Journal of Clinical Practice, Volume 62, Issue 6

  • 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 with details of the particular issue you are interested in

Last reviewed: 
15 Jun 2022
Next review due: 
15 Jun 2025

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