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Complementary therapies for brain tumours

Complementary therapies can be used alongside conventional (approved) treatments for brain tumours. People affected by brain tumours may use them to help manage the side-effects caused by their medical treatments or to improve their mental and/or physical well-being.

On this page:

What is the difference between complementary therapies and alternative therapies?

Complementary therapies are different from alternative therapies.

Complementary therapies are treatments that are intended to be used alongside and in harmony with conventional medical treatment.

People with brain tumours might use complementary therapies to help their physical or emotional health and wellbeing. Sometimes, complementary treatments can help to relieve some of the symptoms or side-effects of conventional treatment.

Many complementary therapies are relaxing and uplifting, and can allow the person to feel in control and positive. There may also be an improvement in sleep patterns. These approaches can also lead to some important nurturing and self-care.

Alternative therapies, on the other hand, are used instead of conventional medical treatments like chemotherapy or radiotherapy. If you are thinking about these, be sure to talk to your healthcare team before trying any of them.

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Make the right choices for you

Our Step by Step interactive guide outlines what happens following a diagnosis, to answer your questions and help you to understand what to expect.

What are some complementary therapies for brain tumours?

Here are some therapies people affected by a brain tumour often find helpful.

Mind-body therapies

These approaches reflect the principle that how we think and feel affects our well-being. They can have the effect of making you feel less anxious, more comfortable and can help you sleep. They can also help to ease any pain that is experienced.  These therapies are often available in conventional treatment centres and some hospices.

Some mind-body therapies are:


During therapy the acupuncturist will insert very fine sterile stainless steel needles into the skin at various points on the body. Acupuncture is thought to work by releasing natural morphine-like substances in the body, such as endorphins, which can ease symptoms.

Some people find that acupuncture helps them with:

  • controlling pain
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • hot flushes
  • fatigue
  • breathlessness.


Aromatherapy involves the use of herbal oils such as lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus and camomile. The essential oils can be:

  • rubbed onto your skin during a massage session
  • added to a warm bath
  • added with water to an aromatherapy oil diffuser, so the vapour spreads the aroma into the air.

The oils are absorbed through the skin (when rubbed) and/or through the nose (when you inhale them as vapour).

People have reported that aromatherapy helps them cope with:

  • anxiety
  • pain
  • depression
  • stress
  • tiredness.

A certified aromatherapist can guide you through the variety of essential oils used and suggest which might be more appropriate for you. For more information, speak to your healthcare team.

Massage therapy and reflexology

People usually have massage therapy or reflexology to help manage physical symptoms such as pain, muscle stiffness, breathlessness and/or emotions such as stress and anxiety. In massage therapy, a trained therapist will use their hands to rub your muscles. Reflexology involves gentle pressures on the feet or sometimes the hands.

Reflexology involves a hand or foot massage. It is considered that specific areas of the feet or hands represent and are connected to other different parts of the body. A reflexologist applies gentle pressure to points of the hands or feet. This is a relaxing experience and is used to ease stress, anxiety and reduce some side effects of treatment.

Talking therapies

A brain tumour diagnosis can be devastating and may cause unmanageable feelings of stress, fear, anxiety and even depression. Talking therapies, such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), involve a therapist who you will talk to you and help you deal with the emotional side of living with brain tumour and going through treatment. Make sure you use a qualified therapist.

If you would like to explore talking therapy, we offer a free counselling service for people affected by brain tumours.

Breathing and relaxation exercises

Breathing and relaxation exercises can help reduce anxiety and stress. As well as calming the mind, it might help to reduce muscle tension control blood pressure and even improve digestion. You can learn these techniques as part of a support group or at home, using a recording or podcast. Audiobooks are available on this Mind page.


Visualisation involves relaxing and then creating mental images that are calming and pleasant. This could be imagining that you are in a beautiful place and using all senses to experience it.


Meditation uses reflection and single-pointed focus to relax and calm your mind. You’ll often focus on your breathing or a single item in the room. This can help you feel more relaxed and controlled and can lower stress and anxiety levels.

Some people find it helpful to meditate in a group setting. But, this can be done at home using audio material or joining a group on the internet.

Meditation may not be suitable for some people with mental health issues. Your GP can give you advice on this.


Hypnotherapy can help to reduce some side effects of treatment such as nausea and vomiting. It can also help to reduce pain in some instances. You are always in control during hypnotherapy. The practitioner uses suggestions which can have a helpful effect on the way you are feeling. For further information, contact the British Hypnotherapy Association.

Art and craft therapy

Art and craft therapy can help you to express your feelings, often when words are not enough. A therapist can encourage you to communicate your thoughts through crafts like painting, embroidery, or sculpting.

The aim is self-expression and not to produce a great work of art. You will not need expertise in crafts in order to take part and to benefit.

Music therapy

Music therapy can also be a way of communicating using a musical instrument, and can be used individually or as part of a group. But, you don’t have to play an instrument to enjoy music therapy. Even listening to music can be enjoyable and beneficial.

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Physical therapies

Physical activity is designed to be beneficial for the body and the mind. These usually involve gentle, controlled, low-impact movement alongside the use of breathing exercises. This sort of activity can be adapted for use by people of all ages and physical abilities.

Some physical therapies are:


Although there are many types of yoga, they all use different body positions, relaxation, and breathing exercises. Some types of yoga involve gentle stretching and some prioritise meditation. Other types can use more energetic movement and dietary changes. For more information, contact the British Wheel of Yoga.

Tai chi and qigong

Tai chi and qigong combine mind-body therapies, energy-based therapies and physical approaches. They focus on building control, strength balance and flexibility by the use of slow, fluid movements. Breathing exercises and mental imagery can also be involved.

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Which complementary therapy is best for me?

The complementary therapy you choose will depend on your own personal preference and circumstances. What works for one might not work for someone else. You might have to try different therapies before finding the one that suits you and helps you the most.

You can ask your health team to give you more information about these and other complementary therapies and to help you get in touch with a certified therapist.

It is important that your healthcare team is made aware of any complementary therapies you might be having as they can sometimes interfere with the effectiveness of other drugs and brain tumour treatments.

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If you have further questions, need to clarify any of the information on this page, or want to find out more about research and clinical trials, please contact our team:
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