Frequently Asked Questions
What are integrative therapies?
Integrative therapies, also known as complementary therapies, range from acupuncture and massage to nutritional guidance and music therapy.
Research has shown that when used in conjunction with traditional cancer care, complementary therapies can help ease cancer-related symptoms and improve your quality of life.
As evidence of such benefits has grown, medical experts worldwide have come to view integrative therapies as an effective complement to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Through the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, Dana-Farber has become an international leader in this field of care. Pediatric and adult patients treated at the Zakim Center credit its range of complementary therapies with easing nausea, improving circulation, and reducing pain, stress, and anxiety associated with cancer treatment.
Our physicians, therapists, nurses, and other health care staff are trained in both conventional and integrative cancer care, and can guide you in choosing services.
View a video on patients describing how complementary therapies have helped them cope with the effects of cancer treatment.
How do I know if integrative therapies are right for me?
All patients, both adult and pediatric, can take advantage of the Zakim Center's offerings.
If you're unsure which therapy (or therapies) to try, your oncologist can arrange for you to meet with David Rosenthal, MD, medical director of the Zakim Center, for a 30-60 minute integrative medicine consultation. You'll need to ask for a referral from your primary oncologist for these sessions.
Dr. Rosenthal will explain the safety and benefits of our complementary therapies, how they work in conjunction with traditional cancer treatment, and which ones may best fit your diagnosis, treatment schedule, and interests.
A past president of the American Cancer Society and a professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Rosenthal has embraced integrative therapies as a vital component of his own oncology practice.
If your needs and symptoms change over time, you can always opt for (or add) something new.
We also offer monthly lectures and educational seminars on topics related to integrative therapies and cancer treatment, which patients, their families, and caregivers are invited to attend.
Are integrative therapies covered by insurance?
Despite the documented benefits of complementary therapies, most insurance plans will not pay for them. Our mission is to make integrative therapies available and affordable for all Dana-Farber patients.
Some of our services can be billed to health insurance, some have a reduced fee, and some are offered at no charge. We will provide you with a receipt to submit to your insurance company to seek reimbursement, and we're happy to discuss your individual needs and financial concerns regarding health care coverage.
Available Integrative Therapies
As a Dana-Farber patient, you have access to any of the integrative therapies our staff of experienced practitioners provides. Our services include:
A standard practice within traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, acupuncture has in recent decades been widely accepted by Western culture as an adjunctive treatment for many illnesses, including cancer.
Acupuncture involves having hair-thin needles gently inserted into the skin at specific points, called acupoints. When stimulated in this way, as well as with heat, acupoints can help correct and rebalance physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional energy.
Acupuncture is one of the Zakim Center's most popular offerings. Patients describe it as a calming and invigorating experience, and credit acupuncture for helping relieve chronic pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, depression, neutropenia, anxiety, and fatigue associated with cancer treatment. Available to adult and pediatric patients in individual sessions.
See how acupuncture helped a Dana-Farber patient enjoy eating again after cancer treatment
Creative Arts Therapy
Artistic self-expression can be particularly helpful during difficult times, when you and your loved ones feel overwhelmed with diagnoses and treatment plans. Our creative arts specialist can find the right outlet for you, whether it's making music, painting with watercolors, writing poetry, arranging mosaics, making jewelry, or assembling a collage.
Materials are free, and no artistic experience is necessary — just an open heart and mind. Available to adult and pediatric patients in individual and group sessions. Learn more about the Creative Arts Program.
Delivered through stroking or kneading muscles, massage and other forms of therapeutic touch date back 3,000 years to China. This ancient practice can do everything from improve your circulation and immune system to lower your anxiety, apprehension, and stress.
By stimulating your brain to produce endorphins – the natural pain suppressors of the body – massage can improve your general sense of well-being. Our therapists give full massages while patients are lying down and undressed; volunteers also offer free hand massages to patients during chemotherapy. Massage therapy is available to adult and pediatric cancer patients in individual sessions.
Cancer patients credit meditation for helping reduce anxiety, pain, chronic stress, and depression. Learning to let go of negative or fearful thoughts can help you reach a more peaceful state of mind and feel more physically relaxed.
By finding a peaceful space to focus your attention and control your breathing, you can take your mind and body to a quieter, more comfortable place.
Research indicates meditation may also aid in reducing activity in the sympathetic nervous system (which causes heart and breathing rates to go up while narrowing blood vessels) and increasing that of the parasympathetic nervous system (which slows heart and breathing rates and causes blood vessels to dilate, thus improving the flow of blood). Available to adult and pediatric patients in individual and group sessions.
Learn more about meditation as complementary therapy from the National Institutes of Health.
Listening to or performing music is not something most people would equate with cancer therapy, but this fun activity — which at Dana-Farber includes “jam sessions” with professional musicians — can help relax your muscles and lessen feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear you might experience during treatment.
Music has been found to decrease the sensation of pain and associated emotional suffering, and in some cases can lessen nausea, vomiting, and other side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. It also can serve as a way to decrease feelings of isolation during treatment. Available to adult and pediatric patients in individual and group sessions.
Watch Paul Coskie play guitar in his music therapy session
Nutrition/Herb/Food Supplement Counseling
Balanced nutrition is a very important part of cancer treatment, as well as survivorship and prevention. A healthful diet can help rebuild your body's cells and energy level, especially if you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment. It can also help keep your immune system strong and reduce your risk for heart disease and secondary cancers.
The registered dietitians at Dana-Farber are nutritionists with special training in complementary nutrition for cancer patients.
Partnering with other members of your health care team, a nutritionist can help you design a practical eating plan to meet your individual needs, with special attention to beliefs and cultural values. Managing changes in appetite and weight, dealing with side effects, and developing a personalized cancer survivorship wellness plan are all part of the menu. Available to adult and pediatric patients in individual and group sessions.
This mind-body therapy combines meditation and breathing techniques with kung fu, yoga, and Tai Chi moves to help harmonize your body, mind, energy, and spirit. Our instructor, Ramel Rones, is one of the world's foremost Qigong experts.
During each high-spirited session, Rones leads the group in a series of physical movements, as in a standard exercise class, but adds visualization into the mix as well. Patients credit Qigong with easing tired muscles, reducing stress, and boosting the immune system, as well as keeping spirits up during treatment. Available to adult cancer patients in group sessions.
Learn more about Qigong for cancer patients from the American Cancer Institute.
Based on the belief that an unseen “life-force energy” flows through us and helps keep us alive, Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction that is safe, natural, and easy to learn.
You simply lay down on a table, fully clothed, while a licensed Reiki master (teacher) places his or her hands on various parts of your body. In addition to making you feel more relaxed, safe, and secure, a proficient instructor can facilitate energy flow to the areas where you need it most – often creating a warm feeling in those locations. Reiki is available to adult and pediatric cancer patients in individual sessions.
Learn more about Reiki as complementary therapy from the National Institutes of Health.
To learn more about our complementary therapies for cancer patients, email Zakim_Center@dfci.harvard.edu.
To schedule an appointment or register for a program at the Zakim Center, call 617-632-3322.
We will make every effort to schedule your appointments for a time when you are already coming to Dana-Farber so you don't have to make a separate trip.
Because we know unforeseen medical situations and other interruptions can occur, we try to remain flexible. Our cancellation policy requires 24-hour notice prior to your scheduled Zakim Center appointment.
About Leonard Zakim
Lenny Zakim and son Josh
The Zakim Center was the dream of its namesake, Lenny Zakim, who as a Dana-Farber patient found comfort and renewal by combining acupuncture, massage, Reiki, and other integrative therapies with his chemotherapy and radiation. Throughout his five-year treatment for multiple myeloma, Zakim worked tirelessly to make integrative therapies available and affordable to all Dana-Farber patients.
Employing the same passion he displayed as an attorney, civil rights activist, and New England Region director of the Anti-Defamation League, he worked with doctors, administrators, and other patient care advocates to make his goal a reality. Just before dying at age 46 in 1999, Zakim was able to announce the establishment of the Zakim Center, which opened at Dana-Farber the next year.