Bioenergy therapies are among the popular so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) treatments. They are used 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, the available evidence was reviewed and critically examined in this paper.

A systematic search was conducted searching five electronic databases (Embase, Cochrane, PsychInfo, CINAHL and Medline) to find randomized clinical trials concerning the use, effectiveness and potential harm of bioenergy therapies including Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch and Polarity Therapy on cancer patients.

From all 2477 search results, 21 publications with 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, and 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 improved 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. Most studies only had a passive control group. Accordingly, in contrast to the active bioenergy therapies groups, attention effects may strongly affect the results. In the comparisons with an active control group, for example a sham group, no effects were detectable.

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.

This conclusion will not surprise anyone who is capable of rational thinking. Energy healing methods are implausible; further research into this area is a pure wast of money and arguably unethical.

3 Responses to Bioenergy therapies for cancer: implausible, ineffective, and an unethical waste of money

  • “This conclusion will not surprise anyone who is capable of rational thinking. Energy healing methods are implausible; further research into this area is a pure wast of money and arguably unethical.”

    Yet a number of NHS Trusts advertise for, and presumably employ, ‘Reiki Masters II’ therapists to contribute to the care of NHS patients using NHS facilities.The trusts are courted by well-meaning charities who want to see Reiki used. Quite why or how the Trust CEOs, medical directors and Boards are taken in is beyond me.

    It seems the ‘therapists’ are often paid for by charities, not the trust, and trusts claim that is ‘OK’, but NHS funds are spent on the rooms, heating, lighting, reception and administration staff – yet my inquiries have failed to identify any service provided by a Reiki Master which has even been put before a Trust ethical committee, let alone been approved.

    And as we are told, the energy generated by these therapists is so powerful that it can be transmitted international distances! – ask any Reiki Master.
    And if these powerful energies can affect cancer, might they not malignly affect tissue, even people, in the vicinity if slightly misaligned or applied?
    How do we know harm is not caused?
    Is the rate of progress of a cancer perhaps hastened?
    How do we know it is not?

    My inquiries of CEO’s has been ignored except in one trust, which quietly cancelled the post.

    Why is the NHS tolerant of these therapies?

    • good question!
      I wish I knew the answer.

    • “Quite why or how the Trust CEOs, medical directors and Boards are taken in is beyond me.”

      Richard, how many trust CEOs and board members have you met or had dealings with? Unfortunately I had to deal with quite a few of them and have to say that critical thinking and scientific understanding were not among their strong points. Some medical directors were a bit better, but they were more politicians than clinicians.

      This does not surprise me in the slightest, as it can generate some positive media coverage from our unquestioning meejah and from the relevant charities (have a look at some trust websites and they are full of “We partner with these…charities?” blether, which is designed to make it look like the trust is wunnerful).

      FFS, our Occupational Health department (before it was closed and contracted out) “partnered” with some charity to provide mindfulness for stressed and burnt out staff. Never mind looking at ridiculous working practices, here is some useless woo!

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