One of the most worrisome aspects of undergoing cancer treatment is the impending threat of diminished quality of life. Fortunately, many patients can improve their quality of life by engaging in a number of relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques are often used to help ease treatment side effects, pain, and the emotional issues that come with living with cancer. One relaxation method called Biofeedback has been studied since the 1970s, but it did not reach the mainstream until recently. However, researchers say it is still underutilized.
Biofeedback belongs to a collection of behavioral, psychological, social, and spiritual techniques that are used to preserve health and prevent or cure disease. Called “Mind-Body Medicine,” the collection includes techniques such as Acupuncture, Guided Imagery, Hypnotherapy, Meditation, Bodywork, Massage, Breathwork and more. Also referred to as “Alternative” or “Complementary,” mind-body medicine such as biofeedback is now supported by a significant amount of scientific evidence that says there are numerous benefits to incorporating it into a cancer patient’s treatment plan.
According to Dr. Roger S. Cicala, Medical Director of The Methodist Comprehensive Cancer Institute and author of The Cancer Pain Sourcebook, biofeedback can teach a person how to control many of the involuntary functions of the body. Using this technique, patients can learn how to control blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, temperature, perspiration and even emotions.
Approved by an independent panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as a complementary therapy for treating chronic pain, biofeedback uses monitoring devices to provide biofeedback information so that the person can adjust his or her thinking and other mental processes in order to control bodily functions, says the American Cancer Society (ACS). A biofeedback therapist guides the patient as he concentrates on changing a specific physiological process ranging from brain activity to heart rate to muscle tension. According to ACS:
A monitor hooked via electrodes to the patient’s skin measures changes in whichever function is to be altered. Tones or images produced by the monitor inform the patient when he or she achieves the desired results. The process is repeated as often as necessary until the patient can reliably use conscious thought to change physical functions.
Body functions for biofeedback purposes are measured in at least five different ways:
- Breathing Rate: promotes relaxation
- Electrodermal Activity (EDM): shows changes in perspiration rates, used for treating anxiety
- Electromyogram (EMG): measures muscle tension, also helps heal muscle injuries, relieve chronic pain, and some types of incontinence
- Finger Pulse Measurements: used to reflect high blood pressure, heart beat irregularities, and anxiety
- Thermal Biofeedback: provides information about skin temperature, good indicator of blood flow, which helps treat headaches, anxiety, and high blood pressure
While biofeedback does not affect the development or progression of cancer, as stated, research shows that it can improve the quality of life for some people with cancer. This is a safe, inexpensive, and noninvasive technique that requires little effort. It typically takes five to fifteen sessions before a patient achieves effective control.
To learn a more about biofeedback or to find a certified biofeedback practitioner, visit the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) here.
- American Cancer Society
- American Cancer Society’s Guide to Complementary and Alternative Cancer Methods
David S. Rosenthal, MD
- Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA)
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM)
- The Cancer Pain Sourcebook
Roger S. Cicala, MD, Medical Director, The Methodist Comprehensive Cancer Institute
- The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals (Online)
- Photo by Fredric Shaffer, PhD, BCB (Biofeedback Tutor) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons