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Complementary Treatments

Updated September 27, 2010

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has become a popular way to manage treatment side effects.

Complementary medicine brings together many types of treatments, including acupuncture, Qi gong, the creative arts, Chinese herbs, yoga, and many more. Some of these treatments have been used for centuries. They are used to decrease nausea, stress, pain and anxiety and to improve quality of life.


Acupuncture is one popular type of complementary treatment used to manage side effects of breast cancer treatment.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body must maintain a balance between yin and yang, or mind and emotions, to remain healthy. This balance occurs when vital energy, or qi (pronounced "chee"), flows freely throughout the body along pathways called meridians.

Originating in China more than 2,000 years ago, acupuncture maintains health by removing blockages of qi. To remove blockages, an acupuncturist inserts hair-thin needles one-quarter to one inch deep at acupuncture points located along the meridians. These points may be located on the border of a muscle or bone and are an inch to several inches above a wrist, ankle or knee crease, depending on the person.

Western medicine cannot fully explain how acupuncture works; however, researchers have suggested that acupuncture may relieve pain and side effects by improving blood flow and stimulating the nervous system.

Acupuncture should not replace traditional therapies, but researchers have reported it may improve quality of life during and after treatment.

How are complementary therapies used?

Complementary therapies are used in addition to—not instead of—traditional medical treatments. Some doctors integrate CAM into medical treatment, and some hospitals even have centers studying the effectiveness of CAM.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Some complementary methods can interfere with medical treatments, so you should talk with your doctors about treatments you want to try or have been using.

Learn more in an article from the Spring 2007 issue of Insight, "The Benefits of Acupuncture: Using Traditional Chinese Medicine to Manage Side Effects."

Read more about the providers who helped us write this page in our Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.