Reiki and Breast Cancer

Originally from Ontario Reiki Programme Centre – given to The Healing Pages by kind permission

A 45-year-old Caucasian woman whose 1st child was born when she was between 20-24 years of age has an 8% chance of contracting breast cancer before age 90[i]. In addition to coping with the illness itself, chemotherapy and radiotherapy have undesirable and challenging side effects, and radical surgeries leave patients psychologically as well as physically changed. This article examines some of the effects of breast cancer on the patient, and how Reiki can address them.

For Reiki to be applicable in breast cancer treatment requires that it address in some way the primary symptoms. Other than healing the tumor itself (for which there is anecdotal – but not experimental – evidence that Reiki can be helpful), the primary effects of breast cancer on a woman are pain, the side effects of the chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and the psychological impact of the disease and the surgery.

Breast Cancer Pain

“For women affected by breast cancer, overcoming pain can be a major part of dealing with the disease and its treatment. Surgery can cause discomfort in the breast and underarm area, chemotherapy can cause joint pain and mouth sores, and metastatic disease can cause pain in other parts of the body.” [ii] – Dr. Marisa Weiss, Oncologist specializing in breast cancer, Author of Living Beyond Breast Cancer (Random House)

Reiki has been found to be effective for dealing with pain. “We use probably 50-80 percent of nonpharmacologic methods in our NIH pain clinic, meaning non-medication. The things we use include massage, relaxation, hypnosis, and Reiki therapy, which is also very helpful in fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndromes.” [iii] – Ann Berger, R.N., M.S.N., M.D., Medical oncologist specializing in pain treatment, Chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C.

Medical studies using sham practitioners have been carried out with Reiki, and it has been shown to be effective for pain management. One double-blind study[iv] found that “Reiki is an effective modality for reducing pain, depression, and anxiety”; Hartford hospital reports that Reiki provides significant pain relief for surgery patients[v]; Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute concluded that Reiki showed a highly significant reduction in pain in a pain management study including cancer.

In a study of Reiki for treating HIV-related pain and anxiety[vi], Pamela Miles found that newly trained Reiki practitioners perceived reductions in pain and anxiety when they performed Reiki on themselves or classmates. Breast cancer patients can, similarly, be taught first-level Reiki (which only takes about a day, and has no significant age or ability barriers). Miles found no significant differences between improvements whether oneself or a classmate did the treatments. The argument for Level 1 Reiki training for breast cancer patients is compelling, both for pain management and empowerment.

Chemo- and Radiotherapy Side Effects

Other than hair loss, common side effects of chemotherapy are fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, and infection due to a reduction in white blood cells known as neutropenia. Neutropenia affects as many as one-in-three patients receiving chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Patients can develop fever and infections, particularly in the mouth, throat, sinuses, lungs and skin.[vii] 

Reiki may be an appropriate vehicle to help address these undesirable effects. Reiki causes significant increase in salivary Immunoglobulin A (IgA) [viii], and decreases in blood pressure and anxiety. Immunoglobulin A protects the body’s mucosal surfaces from infections and is the main mechanism for providing local immunity against infections in the gut and respiratory tract. This increase in immune system function would tend to negate the effects of the therapy on the patient’s immune system. (Author has proposed a clinical study with CHEO to attempt to demonstrate this mechanism.)

Reiki is already used in several hospitals for cancer patients[ix]: Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (Lebanon, NH), Integrative Medicine Outpatient Center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (New York, NY), Integrative Therapies Program for Children with Cancer at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center (New York, NY), Metropolitan South Health Center (” Direccion de Servicios Metropolitano Sur”, Santiago, Chile)

Used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments, Reiki is reported (anecdotally) to ease the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, improve immune function, ease anxiety, enhance positive emotional attitude, decrease pain, and promote relaxation[x]. Reiki can be part of an integrated approach to managing cancer with reduced patient impact.

Psychological Effects

In “Depression and Breast Cancer, Jennifer Covitch explores the psychological effects of the cancer on women with breast cancer: [xi]These women have a difficult battle to fight, not only because of their physical problems, but also as a result of developing psychological problems. … With up to 58% of the breast cancer population developing psychological problems (Alagaratnam & Kung, 1986; Hinton, 1972), it is incumbent upon the psychological community to increase its awareness of the issues that women with the disease face.” 

While Reiki is not a replacement for counselling and psychological support, one group[xii] specifically found that “Reiki is an effective modality for reducing …depression, and anxiety”. A recent review of Reiki practice in the US found that hospital “…staff, patients, and program administrators report a number of benefits including reduced anxiety and …decreased numbers of self-reported common gerontological complaints such as anxiety, loneliness, insomnia, and pain…” [xiii]


Reiki therapy is safe and non-invasive. It is proving useful in hospices, nursing homes, emergency rooms, operating rooms, organ transplantation care units, pediatric, neonatal and OB/GYN units; facilitating relaxation and recovery and decreasing anxiety and pain[xiv]. It can be a helpful addition to conventional therapy for HIV/AIDS and cancer patients[xv], [xvi] Reiki provides the patient tools to deal with the effects on body, mind, and spirit of the cancer, the therapies, surgery, and the state of their bodies upon recovery. That it can be learned by anyone and that it is useful immediately upon learning to address the secondary (non-tumor) symptoms, make a compelling argument for teaching Reiki to every woman who is diagnosed with breast cancer.



The Ontario Reiki Programme Centre is an Ontario not-for-profit corporation dedicated to providing Reiki programmes in health care centres. They provide presentations, training and treatments, and have a comprehensive website (at of research on this non-invasive therapy. Therapists and teachers are registered with the Canadian Reiki Association. These articles are part of our mandate to inform people who may benefit from Reiki that this therapy exists, and how it has been shown to apply. This material may be used to promote Reiki and Reiki programmes in health care centres so long as the material is used intact and includes the copyright and attribution.

Reiki is a complement to treatment by a physician. It does not provide services in lieu of a doctor, nor is it a medical diagnostic tool. However, there is a growing body of opinion that integrative medicine that takes advantage of all parts of the care spectrum as appropriate is more effective (and cost-effective) than allopathic treatment alone.

Author: Peter Zorzella, BASc, RT-CRA, founded the Ontario Reiki Programme Centre to make healing through Reiki available to everyone who could benefit from it. Peter is a registered teacher with the Canadian Reiki Association; in addition to the work associated with the Centre, he has a clinical practice South of Ottawa.





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