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Can Home Remedies Help Ease Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment?

How can home remedies help?

Although treatment for breast cancer can help send the disease into remission, it often comes with a number of unpleasant side effects.

Common side effects include:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • pain
  • menopausal symptoms
  • memory loss

These side effects can differ from person to person, and some may persist even after your treatment ends.

Some people find that home remedies can help relieve their side effects and improve their overall quality of life during and after treatment. They can be used alongside your cancer treatment and are aimed at helping you feel your best.

These remedies are only suggested for treating the side effects of cancer treatment. They aren’t intended to treat the cancer itself.

Keep reading to learn more about potential lifestyle changes and natural remedies that you can use at home to find relief.

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Fatigue

Home remedies for fatigue

aerobic exercise

Fatigue is a common side effect of treatment that can affect your daily life. To boost and conserve energy, try sticking to a daily routine and sleep schedule. If you can, limit naps or rest breaks to 30 minutes or less at a time.

This study from 2014 found that women with breast cancer who ate healthily and were physically active lowered their levels of fatigue.

To maintain a balanced diet, you should:

  • Eat or drink at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • Be sure you are getting enough calories and protein. Your doctor can provide guidance about your recommended levels.
  • Talk to your doctor about whether you should take a daily multivitamin.

You should also aim to get in 20 minutes or more of physical activity each day. It’s important to stay as active as possible while honoring the limits of your body and energy levels.

You may find it beneficial to incorporate one or more of the following aerobic exercises into your daily routine:

  • walking
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • swimming

Aerobic exercise has a number of benefits, including:

  • increased stamina and endurance
  • improved bodily function
  • better sleep
  • reduced stress

It may also reduce your risk for breast cancer recurrence.

Before exercising, make sure you feel well enough to complete the exercise and do it carefully. Check with your doctor or a fitness expert who specializes in cancer and exercise if you have any concerns.

You shouldn’t exercise without your doctor’s approval if you have:

  • low white blood cell count
  • fever
  • infection
  • anemia
  • cancer that has spread to your bones

Insomnia

Home remedies for insomnia

walking

If you’re experiencing insomnia, you should try to maintain a sleep schedule and keep your sleeping environment conducive to rest and relaxation.

You may find the following tips to be helpful:

  • Dim the lights about an hour before you would like to fall asleep. This can help your brain realize it’s time to get into sleep mode.
  • Adjust the temperature in your bedroom. A cooler room — typically between 60°F (15.6°C) and 67°F (19.4°C) — is considered an ideal sleeping environment.
  • Limit noise before bed and during the night. This may mean turning the TV off about an hour before you plan to sleep or using a fan or ambient noise machine to drown out unwanted sounds.
  • Use aromatherapy to help relax. Soothing scents, such as lavender, can help decrease your heart rate and blood pressure.

Researchers in one 2015 study found that moderate-intensity walking improved sleep quality in people with cancer. Try to walk for 20 minutes or more each day.

You can adjust the time depending on how you’re feeling. You can also break up the time into a few sessions per day. When you’re feeling up to it, walk for a longer period of time.

Before adding daily walks to your routine, check with your doctor. They can assess whether you’re physically able to complete the exercise.

Learn more: Tips to sleep better »

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Hot flashes

Home remedies for hot flashes

meditating

The results of one 2011 study found that women who took part in a mindfulness training program experienced reduced bother and anxiety caused by hot flashes.

Known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), the program taught participants how to be less reactive to thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise and pass. The goal was to change the way they thought and behaved.  

You may practice MBSR as often as you like throughout the day. When starting out, try to do one or two 10-minute sessions per day. You may find it beneficial to use a guided online program to help you incorporate techniques into your daily life.

Mindfulness training has the potential to bring up uncomfortable feelings and emotions. Be gentle with yourself during this time, and discontinue the practice if it causes intense discomfort.

Avoiding triggers can also help reduce hot flashes. Common triggers include:

  • spicy foods
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • tight clothing
  • smoking

Learn more: Remedies for hot flashes »

Breast pain

Home remedies for breast pain

bath

If you’re experiencing breast pain, you may use the following to relieve pain:

  • ice pack
  • warm compress
  • self-massage
  • Epsom salt or magnesium bath

Use your chosen method as often as you like, and add it to your relaxation routine. Spend this time to tune in to your body and see how you feel. You may also find it helpful to wear a bra with extra support to help relieve tenderness.

In the long term, consider taking a vitamin supplement. According to one 2015 study, women who took either vitamin E or vitamin B supplements experienced a significant reduction in breast pain.

These supplements are generally safe, but you should still talk with your doctor before adding them to your regimen.

Learn more: Managing pain associated with breast cancer »

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Vaginal pain

Home remedies for vaginal pain

person with headphones

There are several things that you can do to find quick relief:

  • Use a cold compress to reduce pain or tenderness.
  • Use a cotton ball to apply a diluted mixture of apple cider vinegar and water to relieve itching.
  • Take an Epsom salt bath to ease itching.

If you’re seeking further relief from vaginal pain, you may find it helpful to listen to binaural beats using headphones. A 2016 study found that adults who listened to binaural beats for 20 minutes a day for two weeks experienced a reduction in pain levels. That said, the study didn’t focus on vaginal pain, but on various types of chronic pain.

Be sure you are able to listen for 15–30 minutes at a time, fully focusing on the music. You could even listen while doing a relaxing yoga pose, such as child’s pose.

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Stress and anxiety

Home remedies for stress and anxiety

yoga

You may be able to relieve stress and anxiety through:

  • relaxation techniques
  • exercise
  • meditation or mindfulness practices
  • yoga

Find what resonates best with you so that you’re able to let go of any worries, nervousness, or tension.

Yin and restorative yoga are excellent ways to help you feel better overall. Recent research has shown that women with breast cancer who practiced yoga experienced less anxiety. Study participants also experienced reduced depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances.

Begin by practicing gentle, relaxing poses for at least 15 minutes per session. Using pillows to support your body can be especially beneficial if you’re experiencing pain during the time of practice.

Learn more: Yoga for people with cancer — 5 benefits, 4 poses »

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Cognitive function

Home remedies for cognitive function

brain training

Issues with concentration and memory are a common side effect of treatment, so it’s important that you take steps to boost your mental function.

You can try the following:

  • Remove as many distractions from your working environment as possible and take breaks often to refresh.
  • Try to be as organized as possible.
  • Balance physical activity with relaxation to lower stress, which is linked to memory and concentration problems.
  • Try to break up your usual routine with new ways of doing things.

Engaging in brain training has also been shown to have a positive effect on the cognitive functioning of women with breast cancer. There are plenty of apps, games, and programs online to help stimulate brain activity and function.

Immunity

Home remedies for immunity

immunity

It’s also important to boost your immunity as much as possible. This can help your body fight off the disease and prevent further complications. Getting plenty of rest, staying physically active, and maintaining a healthy weight are all key.

You can incorporate the following immune-boosting foods into your diet for added benefits:

  • garlic
  • ginger
  • yogurt
  • oats
  • mushrooms

Cook with maitake or shiitake mushrooms, or take mushroom extract pills, for an added boost. Results of a 2013 study showed that women receiving chemotherapy who took shiitake mushroom extract improved their immune function.

You may find the extract at your local health food store or through an online health supplier. Carefully follow the directions and talk with your doctor before taking it. You shouldn’t take this supplement if you have an autoimmune disorder.

Be sure to watch for potential side effects, which include:

  • abdominal discomfort
  • skin swelling
  • sun sensitivity
  • skin allergies
  • breathing difficulties

Learn more: 15 foods that boost the immune system »

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Takeaway

The bottom line

Hopefully some of these remedies will help to alleviate your treatment side effects and make your daily life more comfortable. Focus on your healing process and make self-care a priority. Reach out for help from loved ones and professionals as much as you need.

Remember, these remedies aren’t a replacement for your doctor-approved treatment plan. You should talk with your doctor before adding these to your routine to ensure that it won’t affect your current treatment plan.

Article resources
  • Aerobic exercise. (2014, January 26). Retrieved from http://www.breastcancer.org/tips/exercise/types/aerobic
  • Carmody, J., Crawford, S., Salmoirago-Blotcher, E., Leung, K., Churchill, L., & Olendzki, N. (2011, June). Mindfulness training for coping with hot flashes: Results of a randomized trial. Menopause, 18(6), 611-620. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3123409/
  • Chiu, H. Y., Huang, H. C., Chen, P. Y., Hou, W. H., & Tsai, P. S. (2015, March). Walking improves sleep in individuals with cancer: A meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials [Abstract]. Oncology Nursing Forum, 42(2), 54-62. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25806892
  • Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Klose, P., Lange, S., Langorst, J., & Dobos, G. J. (2017, January). Yoga for improving health-related quality of life, mental health and cancer-related symptoms in women diagnosed with breast cancer [Abstract]. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28045199
  • George, S. M., Alfano, C. M. Neuhouser, M. L., Smith, A. W., Baumgartner, R. N., Baumgartner, K. B., … Ballard-Barbash, R. (2014, December). Better postdiagnosis diet quality is associated with less cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer survivors [Abstract]. Journal of Cancer Survivorship: Research and Practice, 8(4), 680-687. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25001403
  • Nagashima, Y., Maeda, N., Yamamoto, S., Yoshino, S., & Oka, M. (2013, July). Evaluation of host quality of life and immune function in breast cancer patients treated with combination of adjuvant chemotherapy and oral administration of Lentinula edodes mycelia extract. OncoTargets and Therapy, 6, 853-859. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3711972/#
  • Park, J. H., Jung, Y. S., Kim, K. S., & Bae, S. H. (2017, January). Effects of compensatory cognitive training intervention for breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy: A pilot study [Abstract]. Supportive Care in Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28132089
  • Shobeiri, F., Oshvandi, K., & Nazari, M. (2015, November-December). Clinical effectiveness of vitamin E and vitamin B6 for improving pain severity in cyclic mastalgia. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, 20(6), 723-727. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4700694/
  • Side effects from breast cancer treatment. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/breast_center/treatments_services/survivor_care/side_effects.html
  • Six tips to design the ideal bedroom for sleep. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/six-tips-design-the-ideal-bedroom-sleep
  • Zampi, D. D. (2016, January-February). Efficacy of theta binaural beats for the treatment of chronic pain [Abstract]. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, 22(1), 32-38. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26773319
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