Examining Complementary & Alternative Cancer Treatments Part 9: Biofeedback Therapy

Biofeedback Therapy involves using the mind to control certain body functions. It is part of the several relaxation methods that were found to be beneficial by the United States National Institutes of Health.

Although there has not been any substantive evidence that biofeedback can affect the progression of cancer among patients, it is widely accepted as a suitable method of enhancing the quality of life of some cancer patients.

Biofeedback is usually recommended for patients who want to lessen the amount of pain they experience while in treatment. This therapy is usually performed with the help of a therapist, but with practice, patients or their loved ones can learn to do biofeedback on their own. Through biofeedback, a cancer patient is able to see which of his or her physical functions may be causing pain or discomfort. It is designed to treat the following signs and symptoms:

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Migraine

  • Temporo-mandibular joint disorder

  • Cardiac arrhythmia

  • Low or high blood pressure level

  • Urinary incontinence

  • Irritable bladder syndrome

  • Chronic gastrointestinal problems

    • Ulcer

    • Irritable bowel syndrome

    • Crohn’s disease

  • Epilepsy

  • Movement disorders

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sleeping disorders

This specific therapy allows cancer patients to be aware of and be able to manage some of the physical process that are controlled automatically by our bodies, which includes the following:

  • Heart rate

  • Blood pressure and circulation

  • Temperature

  • Muscle tension

  • Sweating

  • Brain activity

How Does it Work?

A special monitoring device is used to track hard-to-detect bodily processes, which is reported back to the biofeedback therapist through a continuous signal that is usually in the form of a tone or an image. By analyzing which processes are in distress or affected by cancer treatment, patients can adjust their physical, emotional, and mental state to improve their condition.

A monitor is connected to the skin using electrodes, which evaluates any changes in the particular bodily function that the patient wishes to observe. In the form of tones and images, the results are then analyzed so that the patient can act accordingly. The process will be repeated as frequently as needed until the patient achieved the desired results or until he or she is able to depend on conscious thought to improve physical processes. Some have learned to control their bodily functions without the help of a monitoring device, while a significant few have to go back to using it after a while.

Different Ways of Measuring the Bodily Processes

  • Electromyogram – This device is designed to measure muscles’ electrical activity.

  • Thermal Biofeedback – Used for analyzing skin temperature and is a very reliable indicator of blood circulation.

  • Electrodermal Activity – This particular device, on the other hand, displays any sudden or constant changes in a patient’s perspiration rate, which can help gauge the level of anxiety that the patient experiences.

  • Finger Pulse Measurements – A finger pulse measurement device reflects indicates whether a person has high blood pressure levels, shows any heartbeat irregularities, and also monitors anxiety level.

  • Breathing Rate Monitoring – Observing patients’ breathing rate can help with the management of hyperventilation, asthma, and anxiety attacks.

The historical relevance of the biofeedback therapy  goes back to ancient eastern medical systems. Practitioners of yoga and meditation are said to have been able to control their physical processes that are usually thought of as impossible.

Research and studies regarding the effectiveness of biofeedback progressed only during the 1970s. It was originally used by mental health professionals such as psychologists and counselors, but is categorized under the complementary and alternative cancer treatments that help patients cope with such a complicated and debilitating disease.

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