Multiple myeloma is increasingly being considered a chronic disease. Treatment options are expanding and providing better long-term survival for many people.

Even with these advancements, the cancer and its treatment can greatly impact your ability to live comfortably day-to-day and do the things that matter to you. Complementary therapies help make sure those symptoms and side effects are addressed so that you have the highest quality of life possible while also managing cancer.

Complementary therapies, also referred to as integrative medicine, aren’t a substitute for conventional treatment. But they can work alongside your prescribed treatment plan. This is a growing area of research, including evidence-based therapies like mind-body practices, lifestyle modifications, and herbs and natural products.

Some complementary therapies don’t have strong evidence indicating 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’s important to make sure whatever approaches you chose are safe, don’t interfere with your treatment, and are being administered by trained professionals.

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

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

Most recommendations are similar to those for people without cancer: enjoying a balanced, nutrient-rich diet filled with plants and lean proteins, and limiting sugar-sweetened foods and alcohol.

Talk with your oncology team about a safe diet plan for you.

Herbs and supplements can help keep you healthy, though you’ll want to verify their safety and evidence.

Some research shows that vitamin D deficiency is common in people living with multiple myeloma and that providing 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.

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

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

Research shows that physical activity helps people living with hematologic cancers boost quality of life through improved sleep, lessened fatigue, and improved function. Small studies in people with multiple myeloma have confirmed these findings.

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

Acupuncture, which involves the insertion of thin needles into the body, and acupressure, which involves using physical pressure at specific body parts, can help treat common side effects from cancer treatments.

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

Risks of acupuncture are small, such as infection and bleeding. But because individuals with multiple myeloma may also have anemia, neutropenia, or other conditions that can increase these risks, it’s important to get care from a trained expert to ensure they use safe techniques.

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

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

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

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

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

Currently, research to show how safe and effective CBD medications are for people with cancer is still lacking. There isn’t good enough evidence to recommend it as a complementary therapy.

Discuss CBD with your oncology team to determine what role it could play in your care.

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

  • stress-reduction
  • improved sleep
  • reduced nausea and vomiting
  • reduced pain

Aromatherapy includes using mechanical diffusers, rollerballs, lotions, sprays, and bathing salts.

One of the most popular essential oils is lavender because it has very few contraindications, drug interactions, and safety concerns.

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

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

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

Other mind-body therapies like guided imagery using Virtual Reality also have some evidence of improving quality of life in those living with cancer.

Additional options to try include yoga, tai-chi, qi gong, and meditation. Ask whether your cancer center provides these resources or can give you a referral.

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

While your oncology team is focused 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 maximize your health and well-being. Your cancer clinic may provide access to specialists who provide complementary therapies. They can also assist you in finding which therapies will benefit you most with minimal risks.

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