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Multiple myeloma: can complementary therapies help?

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Multiple myeloma is increasingly considered a chronic disease. The treatment options are multiplying and offer better long-term survival for several people.

Even with these advances, cancer and its treatment can have a huge impact on your ability to live comfortably every day and do the things that matter to you. Complementary therapies help ensure that these symptoms and side effects are treated so that you have the best possible quality of life while managing the cancer.

Complementary therapies, also called integrative medicine, do not replace conventional treatments. But they can work alongside your prescribed treatment plan. It’s a growing field of researchincluding evidence-based therapies such as mind-body practices, lifestyle modifications, herbs, and natural products.

Some complementary therapies do not have strong evidence that they improve outcomes. However, you may still find them enjoyable. These therapies can help you take control of your health and engage in activities and treatments that improve your life.

It is important to ensure that the approaches you choose are safe, do not interfere with your treatment, and are administered by trained professionals.

Complementary therapies include dietary approaches that can help you manage cancer and the side effects of treatment. This includes specific diets and foods.

Several resources exist to guide you in your approach to nutrition during cancer treatment and beyond, including the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.

Most of the recommendations are similar to those for people without cancer: eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet filled with plants and lean proteins, and limit sugary foods and alcohol.

Talk to your oncology team about a safe diet for you.

Herbs and supplements can help you stay healthy, but you may want check their safety and evidence.

Some research shows that vitamin D deficiency is common in people with multiple myeloma and that taking supplements helps improve their blood health. Be sure to take the recommended daily amount.

Similarly, curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, has some evidence supporting its use against cancers like multiple myeloma.

Because some herbs and supplements can interact with other medications, talk to your oncology team before using them.

Exercise is a great way to keep your body strong. This can include activities like walking, housework, aerobic activities, and resistance training.

Research shows that physical activity helps people with blood cancers improve their quality of life through improved sleep, reduced fatigue and improved function. Small studies in people with multiple myeloma confirmed these findings.

Talk to your oncology team before starting a physical activity routine. Some multiple myeloma medications can put you at risk of injury. For example, steroids can cause bone fractures and other treatments can cause bone pain.

Acupuncture, which involves inserting fine needles into the body, and acupressure, which involves putting physical pressure on specific parts of the body, can help treat common side effects of cancer treatments.

In people with multiple myeloma, acupuncture has been show to improve nausea and vomiting, appetite, pain and drowsiness.

The risks of acupuncture are low, such as infections and bleeding. But because people with multiple myeloma may also have anemia, neutropenia, or other conditions that can increase these risks, it’s important to seek the help of a qualified expert to ensure they are using safe techniques. .

Massage therapy is frequently used as a complementary therapy to reduce stress, pain, anxiety, and other symptoms. Research on the effectiveness of the massage was limited. Few studies were conducted with people living with multiple myeloma.

Those who find massage helps improve quality of life can use it as a safe complementary therapy. Sometimes aromatherapy or essential oils are used during the massage for additional relaxation.

Some massage techniques may need to be adjusted for people with cancer. Make sure your massage therapist understands your needs.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is part of the cannabis plant and is different from the part that causes a “high” feeling.

CBD is used to treat several cancer-related health issues like pain, nausea and vomiting, sleep problems, and lack of appetite.

Currently, research to show how safe and effective CBD drugs are for people with cancer is still lacking. The is not sufficient proof recommend it as a complementary therapy.

Discuss CBD with your oncology team to determine the role it might play in your care.

Aromatherapy is commonly used for relaxation and well-being. The benefits of aromatherapy are especially important for people with cancer. This includes:

  • stress reduction
  • sleep improvement
  • reduction of nausea and vomiting
  • reduced pain

Aromatherapy includes the use of mechanical diffusers, rollers, lotions, sprays and bath salts.

A die the most popular essential oils is lavender because it has very few contraindications, drug interactions, and safety issues.

But some essential oils used in aromatherapy can interact with your medications. Discuss your plans for using aromatherapy with your oncology team to make sure it’s safe.

Mind-body therapies weave together the functioning of the body and brain to address emotional, spiritual and behavioral factors.

Research shows that music therapy can help to improve quality of life, depression, anxiety, fatigue and pain in people with cancer.

Other mind-body therapies like guided imagery using virtual reality have also some evidence to improve the quality of life of people with cancer.

Other options to try include yoga, tai chi, qigong, and meditation. Ask if your cancer center provides these resources or can give you a referral.

Complementary therapies are a great way to become more involved in managing the impact cancer can have on your life. To learn more about the benefits, government organizations like the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health provide reliable educational information.

Although your oncology team focuses on treating the cancer itself, they can also help integrate complementary therapies into your overall treatment plan.

Look for experienced therapists who can work cohesively with your oncology team to help you maximize your health and well-being. Your cancer clinic can provide access to specialists who offer complementary therapies. They can also help you find the therapies that will benefit you the most with minimal risk.


Dr. Teresa Hagan Thomas is an RN specializing in oncology and a scientist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. Dr. Thomas has an active, funded research program focused on promoting patient self-advocacy in people with cancer, including testing patient interventions to promote self-advocacy, patient-centered care patient and quality of life.