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Complementary therapies for pancreatic cancer

Some people with pancreatic cancer find that complementary therapies can help them cope with anxiety, pain and some side effects of treatments. Complementary therapies don’t work for everyone, but they may help you feel more in control.

Complementary therapies work alongside your medical treatments. Don’t stop any pancreatic cancer treatments without speaking to your doctor.

Ask your GP or nurse about any complementary therapy services in your area – some may be available on the NHS. Hospitals, hospices and local charities may offer complementary therapies. The Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council have more information, including a list of registered therapists.

Always tell your medical team before you start a complementary therapy, as some may affect your cancer treatment. And tell your complementary therapist about your cancer treatment. Macmillan Cancer Support’s have a booklet, Cancer and complementary therapies, has more information.


Acupuncture uses fine needles which are inserted just under the skin, in specific places in the body. Acupuncture needles are so fine that they shouldn’t hurt, although you may feel a tingle or dull ache as they go in.

Acupuncture needles placed in the ear may help people with nerve pain but we need more research into this.


Some people find massage calming and relaxing. It may help you feel better generally and reduce pain.

You should not have massage in the area of your cancer or near enlarged lymph nodes. So avoid the tummy area and upper back. People with advanced cancer who have problems with bleeding should avoid deep tissue massage. 

Reiki is a gentler type of massage where the therapist’s hands gently brush over the body. This may be useful for people who can’t have regular massage.

Reflexology is a type of massage that involves putting pressure on parts of the hands or feet. This may help to relieve pain in other parts of the body.

Relaxation therapies

Relaxation therapies like meditation and hypnotherapy may help you to cope, for example with pain.

Meditation involves concentrating to calm your mind and relax your body. Mindfulness is a type of meditation where you focus on what is happening at that moment in time. It helps you manage your thoughts and cope with your feelings. The Be Mindful website has more information, including details of teachers.

Hypnotherapy is a type of deep relaxation that can help you change the way you think about symptoms such as pain. The British Society of Clinical Hypnosis has details of hypnotherapists.


Visualisation can help to relax you and distract you from symptoms such as pain. A therapist will help you to use your imagination to think of pleasant or positive situations. For example, you may remember the sights and smells of a favourite place.

Art and music therapies

Art therapy allows you to express your emotions through art, such as painting or drawing. It can help you cope and improve your daily life by helping you express your emotions. Talking to an art therapist about your artwork can help you start talking about how you feel and help you feel more in control.

Music therapy involves using musical instruments or recorded music to express yourself. There isn’t much evidence to show that it works but it may reduce pain and anxiety and help to improve your daily life.

Pet therapy

Pet therapy uses animals, usually dogs, which have been trained to be calm and comforting to people. Therapy dogs and their handlers usually visit people for ten to 15 minutes at a time. Some people find that pet therapy helps reduce stress and improve their mood.

Questions to ask

  • Are there any complementary therapies available that might help me cope with my cancer?
  • Can you give me details of any local therapists?


Published October 2016

To be reviewed October 2018

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