Bioenergy (or energy healing) therapies are among the popular alternative treatment options for many diseases, including cancer. Many studies deal with the advantages and disadvantages of bioenergy therapies as an addition to established treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation in the treatment of cancer. However, a systematic overview of this evidence is thus far lacking. For this reason, German authors reviewed and critically examined the evidence to determine what benefits the treatments have for patients.

In June 2022, a systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Medline) to find studies concerning the use, effectiveness, and potential harm of bioenergy therapies including the following modalities:

  • Reiki,
  • Therapeutic Touch,
  • Healing Touch,
  • Polarity Therapy.

From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with a total of 1375 patients were included in this systematic review. The patients treated with bioenergy therapies were mainly diagnosed with breast cancer. The main outcomes measured were:

  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • mood,
  • fatigue,
  • quality of life (QoL),
  • comfort,
  • well-being,
  • neurotoxicity,
  • pain,
  • nausea.

The studies were predominantly of moderate quality and, for the most part, found no effect. In terms of QoL, pain, and nausea, there were some positive short-term effects of the interventions, but no long-term differences were detectable. The risk of side effects from bioenergy therapies appears to be relatively small.

The authors concluded that considering the methodical limitations of the included studies, studies with high study quality could not find any difference between bioenergy therapies and active (placebo, massage, RRT, yoga, meditation, relaxation training, companionship, friendly visit) and passive control groups (usual care, resting, education). Only studies with a low study quality were able to show significant effects.

Energy healing is as popular as it is implausible. What these ‘healers’ call ‘energy’ is not how it is defined in physics. It is an undefined, imagined entity that exists only in the imagination of its proponents. So why should it have an effect on cancer or any other condition?

My team conducted 2 RCT of energy healing (pain and warts); both failed to show positive effects. And here is what I stated in my recent book about energy healing for any ailment:

Energy healing is an umbrella term for a range of paranormal healing practices. Their common denominator is the belief in a mystical ‘energy’ that can be used for therapeutic purposes.

  • Forms of energy healing have existed in many ancient cultures. The ‘New Age’ movement has brought about a revival of these ideas, and today energy healing systems are amongst the most popular alternative therapies in the US as well as in many other countries. Popular forms of energy healing include those listed above. Each of these are discussed and referenced in separate chapters of this book.
  • Energy healing relies on the esoteric belief in some form of ‘energy’ which is distinct from the concept of energy understood in physics and refers to some life force such as chi in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or prana in Ayurvedic medicine.
  • Some proponents employ terminology from quantum physics and other ‘cutting-edge’ science to give their treatments a scientific flair which, upon closer scrutiny, turns out to be but a veneer of pseudo-science.
  • The ‘energy’ that energy healers refer to is not measurable and lacks biological plausibility.
  • Considering its implausibility, energy healing has attracted a surprisingly high level of research activity. Its findings are discussed in the respective chapters of each of the specific forms of energy healing.
  • Generally speaking, the methodologically best trials of energy healing fail to demonstrate that it generates effects beyond placebo.
  • Even though energy healing is per se harmless, it can do untold damage, not least because it significantly undermines rational thought in our societies.

As you can see, I do not entirely agree with my German friends on the issue of harm. I think energy healing is potentially dangerous and should be discouraged.

5 Responses to Energy healing for cancer?

  • It is widely used in the NHS, usually in the form of reiki. The charity MacMillan Cancer Care quite rightly says that reiki is ineffective, but still funds it in NHS cancer units. I have so far found almost 20 NHS cancer departments, and independent hospices, which currently provide reiki (most of them), or previously did so. FOI requests show that no such bodies assessed the evidence for it. I am still gathering data.

    • Les, just for the sake of correctness:

      “The charity MacMillan Cancer Care…” is the Macmillan Cancer Support charity, now one of the largest charities in the UK, founded by Douglas Macmillan MBE (10 August 1884 – 9 January 1969) in 1911 as the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer.

      In July, 1911 Macmillan’s father died of cancer. This made a profound impression on him. The following year, despite having no medical background himself, he set up the Society for the Prevention and Relief of Cancer, with a donation of £10. The aim was to establish what caused cancer and how best to treat it. In founding the Society, Macmillan “wanted to see homes for cancer patients throughout the land, where attention will be provided freely or at low cost, as circumstances dictate… [and]… panels of voluntary nurses who can be detailed off to attend to necessitous patients in their own homes.”

  • I do not agree “energy healing is per se harmless”.
    The energy may cause serious physical harm. After all, it can affect cancer (as we are told by some NHS institutions).
    How do we (or the NHS) know just what the energy does?

    I am particularly concerned that the NHS advertises for and employs Reiki Practitioners of grade II (at least) and at this level, the practitioner is trained to transmit the energy at a distance – even internationally.

    That being the case, I have asked NHS hospitals what risk assessment they have carried out to be sure passing staff, patients or the public are not malignly affected by the energy.

    Are the energy treatment rooms protected in some was as rooms used for radiotherapy are?

    Indeed, it is possible the energy actually makes the patient’s cancer worse. How do we know?
    There has been no answer.

    I have asked if Reiki therapists working in the NHS (and other energy therapists) properly inform their patients of the risks before they obtain informed consent for these energies to be used. Pointing out that the NHS institutions are liable for not ensuring informed consent is obtained.
    There has been no answer.

    Patients, the public, and politicians are being misled.
    That is to be deprecated.

    For more information on the power of energy used by reiki Practitioners of grade II or Reiki Masters (who teach up to grade II), as used in the NHS, check out the following – and be very afraid!

    “All information about Reiki has come to us through Mrs. Takata who learned the system of Reiki in Japan in 1935. According to Mrs. Takata, the definition of a Reiki Master is anyone who has received the Master attunement and Master symbol, understands how to give all the attunements and has actually taught a Reiki class thus passing Reiki on to others.

    After Mrs. Takata passed on in December, 1980, the twenty-two Masters she had initiated continued to teach and eventually began initiating other Masters. At first they taught in the same way Mrs. Takata had done, teaching the complete system in three degrees. Becoming a Reiki Master is a serious step that must be preceded by necessary preparation. One must first take Reiki I & II and Advanced Reiki training (Reiki Master).”

    “You may choose to to progress from Reiki I to Reiki II. You will learn to use symbols to strengthen your Reiki and to make it easier to access the energy. You will also learn how to send Reiki through time and space to give distant healings, to use Reiki to heal past issues and to use Reiki for goal setting and personal growth.”

    • That is an interesting perspective, and quite a logical one: if one claims that a certain treatment can have profound effects, then it should be mandatory to come up with proper evidence showing that it has no detrimental effects. Any normal medical products and treatment procedures must go through rigorous testing to prove that these things are both safe and effective, so why are quacks alternative practitioners exempt from this legal requirement?

      If any pharmaceutical company or other (bio)medical product company tried to peddle their wares in the same way that quacks alternative practitioners do, they would be heavily fined immediately, and maybe even forcibly shut down.

      • Charlatans and scamists can do as they wish (sigh).
        But in the NHS there are regulations about the introduction of new and novel therapies, drugs, and procedures.
        They have to be approved by the Trusts’ Ethical Committees.

        This requirement seems to have been ignored.
        Any therapy introduced with out scrutiny is illegal.

        If I am provided with an appropriate reference for the CEO and Medical Director of recalcitrant NHS institutions, I will ask them.

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