Complementary therapies

Complementary therapies are therapies which can be used alongside conventional (approved) anti-tumour treatments to help improve your mental and/or physical wellbeing.

People affected by brain tumours use them to help manage the effects of having a brain tumour and the side-effects caused by medical treatments.

What is the difference between complementary and alternative therapies?

Complementary therapies are different from alternative therapies. Alternative therapies claim to treat tumours when used instead of conventional therapies such chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Claims made about the effectiveness of alternative therapies are not supported by scientific evidence and would not be recommended by your doctor.

Which complementary therapy is suitable 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.

Always let your health team know if you are considering a complementary therapy, as some may affect or interfere with your regular treatment.

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


Some people find that acupuncture helps them with:

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

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.


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.

Dietary supplements

To work properly, our bodies need nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, essential fats and amino acids. We can get all these nutrients in the amounts required through a healthy and balanced diet.

People with brain tumours sometimes take extra nutrients in the form of dietary supplements (tablets or drinks). If you are finding it difficult to eat and are rapidly losing weight due to your treatment, your doctor or dietitian may prescribe you with some supplements to support your diet.

However, doctors usually don't recommend the use of dietary supplements for the management of symptoms because of a risk that they might make treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, less effective.

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.

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.

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 health 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.

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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