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More research needed on complementary therapies

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by Cancer Research UK | News

18 November 2004

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A Cancer Research UK scientist has called for more clinical trials to evaluate the benefits of complementary therapies for cancer patients.

Prof Leslie Walker says that many people benefit from relaxation therapy, hypnotherapy and guided imagery in which patients are taught to visualise their bodies’ defences vanquishing tumours and promoting good health.

He has carried out trials over the last 25 years to show how quality of life can be improved when patients are offered these therapies. But, he says, more trials should be undertaken to evaluate cost effectiveness and safety of other complementary therapies.

In a presentation to the International Union Against Cancer Conference in Dublin, Prof Walker argued that patients can benefit psychologically when information, support and access to evidence-based complementary therapies are offered.

Cancer Research UK’s Prof Walker, who is director of two oncology health centres and the Institute of Rehabilitation at the University of Hull, is currently evaluating the effect for relaxation therapy and guided imagery on patients having chemotherapy for bowel cancer.

A further trial is studying the effects of reflexology and scalp massage on 180 women with early breast cancer.

Earlier studies have indicated that relaxation and guided imagery have improved quality of life.

Prof Walker says: “The idea that guided imagery may have powerful psychological and biological effects goes right back to Aristotle who said; ‘The soul never thinks without a picture.’

“Relaxation techniques involve muscular exercises. Some patients like to imagine a battle scene between the cancer and the drug treatment; others prefer to imagine a healing process like a white light promoting wellbeing and a return to health.”

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Policy and Communication, said: “It is important that cancer patients should have access to treatments that have been shown to be beneficial to their health.

“Although some complementary therapies have been shown to be of value in some clinical situations, it is essential that all such approaches undergo rigorous assessment in randomised clinical trials.”


Our patient website, CancerHelp UK, has information for people living with cancer, and a database of current clinical trials.