Complementary medicine for fatigue and cortisol variability in breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial

Cancer. 2012 Feb 1;118(3):777-87. doi: 10.1002/cncr.26345. Epub 2011 Aug 5.


Background: Fatigue is a chief complaint in cancer patients, and warrants effective treatment. Biofield therapies are complementary medicine approaches used by cancer populations. There is little information about their efficacy.

Methods: This blinded, randomized controlled trial examined the effects of 4 weeks (eight 1-hour sessions) of biofield healing compared with mock healing and a waitlist control group on fatigue in 76 fatigued breast cancer survivors (stages I-IIIa). Secondary outcomes were diurnal cortisol variability (via estimates of cortisol slope), depression, and quality of life (QOL). Treatment belief was assessed to explore whether belief predicted outcomes. Data were analyzed via hierarchical linear modeling.

Results: There were no significant differences between biofield healing and mock healing on belief; 75% thought they received biofield healing. Compared with controls, biofield healing significantly decreased total fatigue (P < .0005, Cohen's d = 1.04), as did mock healing (P = .02, Cohen's d = 0.68), with no significant differences between biofield healing and mock healing. Cortisol slope significantly decreased for biofield healing versus both mock healing and control (P < .04 in both cases; Cohen's d = 0.58). Belief predicted changes in QOL over and above group (P = .004, Cohen's d = 0.84). Belief did not impact fatigue or cortisol variability.

Conclusions: Nonspecific factors are important in responses to biofield interventions for fatigue. Belief predicts QOL responses but not fatigue or cortisol variability. Biofield therapies increase cortisol variability independent of belief and other nonspecific factors. There is a need to further examine the effects of specific processes of biofield healing on outcomes for cancer populations.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / complications
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life*
  • Survival Rate
  • Survivors


  • Hydrocortisone