Biofield Therapies: Promising Preclinical Studies and Clinical Outcomes for Cancer Patients

Biofield therapies are a type of energy therapy that channels energy healing through the hands of a practitioner into the body of a client in order to restore balance and promote good health. Therapeutic Touch, Healing Touch, Polarity Therapy, Reiki, and External Qigong are some of the popular biofield therapies.

While these therapies are increasingly popular, there are still some methodological challenges in conducting clinical trials, although preclinical studies have shown promise in modifying cellular function, tumor growth and specific biological pathways relevant to cancer growth.

Researchers have found that biofield therapies can have a positive impact on cancer patients, including improvements in subjective outcomes such as pain and anxiety, as well as immunological outcomes. Although some clinical studies have not found support for biofield therapies when examined as the primary endpoint, there is general support for their effectiveness in improving quality of life outcomes.

Preclinical studies show that biofield therapies may modify cellular function 

Preclinical studies have also shown that biofield therapies may modify cellular function. For example, Therapeutic Touch has been found to modulate DNA synthesis and human osteoblast mineralization in culture, inhibit metastasis, and modulate immune responses in mice with breast cancer cells. External Qigong has been found to inhibit activation of Akt, extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2, and nuclear factor-κB; induce cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis; and modulate gene expression profiles in colorectal, prostate, and lung cancer cell lines.

In one study, researchers examined whether exposure to Sean L. Harribance (SLH), a purported healer, could modulate cancer cell growth in vitro using human and mouse non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells and in vivo using a syngeneic mouse Lewis lung carcinoma model (LLC). The researchers found that exposure to SLH reduced cell viability and downregulated pAkt in NSCLC cells, and experimental exposure of 30 minutes per session for 5 sessions slowed the growth of mouse LLC relative to a sham control group potentially by reduction of cell proliferation, suppression of inflammation, and modulation of the immune system. However, it is not clear whether the antitumor effect of biofield therapy as delivered by SLH can be altered by differential duration of the treatment.

The researchers also noted anecdotally that the animals in the experimental group were less active than the controls and spent more time grouped together near the front of the compartment during the experimental sessions. Although exploratory in nature, the study observed marked differences in the behavior of the mice with experimental versus control conditions during the second 60-minute treatment session. The mice in the experimental group engaged in almost 50% less movement than the controls. While the control group tended to more consistently explore their environment throughout the 60-minute exposure, the experimental group tended to cluster together for a greater amount of the time with less movement from front to back and back to front of the compartment. Further examination of the necrosis levels of the mice revealed that the three mice in the experimental condition with no necrosis happened to be housed in the right compartment.

While biofield therapies are still being explored as possible alternative or adjuvant treatments for cancer, there is promising evidence to support their effectiveness in improving quality of life outcomes and modifying cellular function and specific biological pathways relevant to cancer growth.

Although clinical trials present methodological challenges, preclinical studies using cultured cells and animal models are less subject to experimental bias and concerns with placebo effects, blinding, and expectations. The study on Sean L. Harribance demonstrates the potential of energy healing in slowing the growth of cancer cells, but further research is needed to determine whether the antitumor effect of biofield therapy can be altered by differential duration of the treatment.