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Alternative Medicine: Dance and Movement as a Tool for Recovery

separator Dance therapy is a tool that all kinds of people—those with cancer and those who are physically healthy--have benefited from. It’s a therapeutic technique that uses movement as a way to improve a person’s sense of well-being. Dance therapists believe that dance movements can help unite the body and mind, and in doing so, help relieve stress and promote health.

This kind of therapy would be considered an alternative treatment for cancer survivors primarily because there have been very few clinical trials conducted to prove its effectiveness. But even though there’s no concrete proof produced by actual studies, many respected health care professionals believe that dance therapy can play a significant role in improving the quality of life of breast cancer survivors.

Dance therapy after a diagnosis of breast cancer
Why is dance and movement therapy helpful for women who have had surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for breast cancer? There are actually quite a few reasons:
  • It’s common for doctors to remove some lymph nodes during breast cancer surgery to determine whether the cancer has spread. Sometimes vessels that carry fluid from the arm to the rest of the body are also removed. This removal, while necessary, can sometimes make it more difficult for fluid to move throughout the body. The fluid can build up, causing painful swelling, which is a condition called lymphedema. Dance therapy can help reduce the risk and severity of lymphedema, a condition that affects up to 30 percent of breast cancer survivors.
  • Dancing, and the stretching that goes along with it, can help ease pain and restore the flexibility and range of motion that are often lost after surgery and radiation.
  • Intense fatigue is common after cancer treatment. Dance therapy can help restore your energy level.
  • Depression, also common and sometimes long-lasting after diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, can be helped by keeping up a regular exercise program such as dance therapy.
  • As a so-called mind-body intervention, dance therapy has a spiritual component that many people find calming after the stress and trauma of cancer diagnosis and treatment.

You don’t need to be a dancer!
Dance therapy isn’t about performance. It’s really just there as a tool to help you get fit and to feel better physically and emotionally. If you’re interested in giving it a try, ask a member of your healthcare team if they can help you find a program that’s designed for breast cancer survivors. If not, ask them to help you find a qualified dance therapist who will be able to help you with your specific concerns.

American Cancer Society; S. Davis Thriving after Breast Cancer, Essential Healing Exercises for Body and Mind. Broadway Books, New York, New York, 2002; M. Tagliaferri, I. Cohen, D. Tripathy. Breast Cancer Beyond Convention. Atria Books, New York, New York, 2002.
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