Bristol Cancer Help Centre

Frequently Asked Questions

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Q.What is the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. What do you do?
A.Bristol Cancer Help Centre is the UK's leading holistic cancer charity that has pioneered the Bristol Approach to cancer care, for people with cancer and those close to them. This Approach works hand-in-hand with medical treatment, providing a unique combination of physical, emotional and spiritual support using complementary therapies and self-help techniques, including practical advice on nutrition. People can access the Bristol Approach through residential courses run by an experienced team of doctors, nurses and complementary therapists. The Centre also trains over 500 health professionals and complementary therapists each year in using the Bristol Approach to support people with cancer.
Q.Are you offering alternative treatments?
A.No. Everything we do works hand-in-hand with medical treatment, and most people who use the Bristol Approach are undergoing treatment. We help people with the emotional, physical and spiritual impact of a diagnosis which can also enable people to benefit more fully from medical treatment.
Q.Is the Bristol Approach a cure?
A.We make absolutely no claims to cure people. That would be irresponsible. It is important that we do not raise false hope. But by helping people to take back some control, by giving them tools and techniques that will make a difference to quality of life, we can make a difference.
Q.Are you a last resort?
A.No - many people come very soon following a diagnosis because they want to know what they can be doing to help themselves through treatment. Treatment itself can be challenging, and we are able to give advice on pain relief and symptom control, such as how to cope with nausea, as well as the very practical self-help techniques, such as relaxation and meditation, to help people cope better with anxiety and fear.
Q.Can people come to you while they�re having treatment like chemotherapy or radiotherapy?
A. Yes. In fact most people are having or just about to start medical treatment when they come on a course at the Centre. The main thing is to time your visit to the Centre so that you are feeling as well as possible and can benefit most from what you will learn. Treatment is normally given in a cycle, so most people come between treatments when any side effects will be at their minimum.
Q.Do the vitamins you recommend interfere with medical treatment?
A.We regularly review our vitamin recommendations with experts to ensure we align these with the most recent research. To get the most up-to-date recommendations contact our national telephone helpline on 0845 123 23 10 or email
Q.What about people who refuse all medical treatment, can they come on your courses?
A.Yes. While we would never encourage people to refuse medical treatment, we do support people�s right to choose not to have treatment when this decision is based on sound information and advice.
Q.Complementary therapies are widely available - why should people come to you?
A.The Bristol Approach is about much more than just complementary therapies. Our Approach combines complementary therapies with self-help techniques. The complementary therapies we use are specifically to help people re-energise to the point where they are able to help themselves. Then the self-help techniques, like visualisation, diet and nutrition, and relaxation help people to completely change the way they live with cancer, so they regain a sense of control over their lives. It is this transformational element of the Bristol Approach that makes the work of the Centre so different.
Q.Can the Bristol Approach help those who are terminally ill?
A.Yes. The Bristol Approach really concentrates on improving quality of life, and this is important at any stage of your life. If appropriate we can also help people to address and start to come to terms with death.
Q.Who comes on your courses?
A.People with cancer and those close to them which could be family members, partners or friends, who come as supporters. The Bristol Approach has always recognised that close friends and family of those living with cancer face their own challenges and need help too.
Q.Do I have to come to Bristol to access the Bristol Approach?
A.Yes. An important part of the Approach is being able to come away from home and concentrate on your own needs without being distracted by home life. By coming to the Centre you have the opportunity to put yourself first, and really benefit from a tranquil, safe place where you can learn new things. People come from all over the UK, and about 5% of those coming to the Centre come from abroad.
Q.Do you charge for courses?
A.Yes, we do charge something for our courses. However we do subsidise the cost of every course we run through our fund raising activity, and for people on low or no income we have an access fund to meet their costs.
Q.What is your advice on food and nutrition for people living with cancer? Should you always aim to eat organic?
A.Our nutritional recommendations are based on up-to-date research and are regularly reviewed by our team of experts. We give advice on how best to support the body with nutrition while dealing with cancer and it�s treatment. The diet we recommend is based on plant foods primarily and we emphasise the importance of fresh vegetables and fruit. The Government recommends that people eat five portions of vegetables and fruit a day, however we feel that this is the absolute minimum and that 7-10 portions is more appropriate for those people who are not in good health. Apart from vegetables and fruit, we suggest that people consume wholegrains and pulses, nuts and seeds and small amounts of animal products particularly poultry and fish. We also suggest that people reduce their intake or avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates, caffeine, alcohol, red meats and dairy products, as these foods have all been associated with an increased risk of cancer. We use only organic produce in the food offered on residential courses at the Centre but we appreciate that eating only organic foods might not always be possible for people. The priority should be to eat as many fresh whole foods, particularly vegetables and fruit, as possible and of secondary importance is whether or not the produce is organic. For free nutritional guidelines for people affected by cancer please contact the national telephone helpline on 0845 123 23 10.
Q.What evidence is there that what you do works?
A.There is an increasing body of scientific research into each of the therapies and techniques we offer. The charity has also introduced an award winning evaluation system to monitor the benefits of the Bristol Approach to people on the Centre's residential courses.
Q.Do you have any support in the medical field?
A.Leading oncologist, Professor Karol Sikora, is Vice President of the Centre. He is Professor of Cancer Medicine at the Imperial School of Medicine at the Hammersmith Hospital, and adviser to the World Health Organisation Cancer Programme. Professor Leslie Walker is Director of the Institute of Rehabilitation at Hull University, and is a member of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre's Therapy Advisory Panel. He undertakes research into the field of mind body medicine and has published articles in medical journals on the impact of techniques such as visualisation on people with cancer. Dr. Victor Barley, consultant clinical oncologist at the Bristol Oncology Centre is on the charity�s Council of Trustees
Q.Do the Government and NHS support what you do?
A.There is broad recognition that emotional, physical and spiritual support is important for people with cancer. As to whether this should all be available on the NHS is open to debate given budget limitations. However, the Calman/Hein report explicitly accepted that there is a great need for the state to provide psycho-social support for people with cancer following a diagnosis. The Supportive Care Strategy to be published by the Department of Health later this year will take this further The National Cancer Plan published by the Department of Health has identified improving diet as a major initiative in cancer prevention
Q.How does this all fit in with the National Cancer Plan?
A.The NHS Cancer Plan includes a commitment to improving supportive care and quality of life for people with cancer and carers, and also to ensuring that the public are educated about healthy eating. The Centre is involved in the development of new supportive care guidelines, using our expertise to help the Government introduce better support for cancer patients.
Q.How do you make sure that your therapists are properly qualified to work with people with cancer? Isn�t this an unregulated area ?
A.The Bristol Approach is delivered on courses by a qualified and experienced multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and complementary therapists at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre. All the therapists working at the Centre are qualified and experienced in working with people with cancer, and belong to accredited professional associations such as the National Federation of Spiritual Healers. We are concerned to develop and improve good practice in complementary cancer care, which is why we have set up a certificate in working with people with cancer, and also offer training courses for complementary therapists helping them to develop their professional skills.
Q.Do you offer training for health professionals?
A.Yes. We provide training to some 500 health professionals a year on how to use the Bristol Approach to support their cancer patients. For example health professionals can learn about eating to boost immunity, or cancer and visualisation or simple relaxation and massage techniques.
Q.The government wants to regulate complementary therapy more - do you agree with that?
A.Yes, currently it is only too easy for someone to do a weekend course and set up as a counsellor or therapist giving advice and treatments to people with cancer, without sufficient professional expertise or any real understanding of the problems and challenges a cancer diagnosis brings. The Centre develops good practice in complementary cancer care, offering professional training to complementary therapists wanting to develop their skills in working with people with cancer. We also help the public to find accredited therapists by referring them to the appropriate professional bodies through our National Telephone Helpline that helps guide them through the confusing amount of information about complementary therapy. Only experienced and accredited therapists work on the charity�s courses.
Q.What do you think about complementary therapists giving people advice on their medical treatment?
A.This is not appropriate. The role of the complementary therapist is to provide support to the person with cancer and offer them the benefit of their own expertise. Medical treatment is the responsibility of trained health professionals. Clearly it is important that the therapist is aware of what treatment the patient is receiving and that in turn a person�s doctor is aware of what complementary therapies they are receiving. This is why at the Centre we have a multidisciplinary team on hand including doctors, nurses and complementary therapists.

"It has been a great satisfaction to me to see how strongly the approach pioneered at Bristol has influenced the development and improvement of cancer services all over Britain."

HRH The Prince of Wales

Patron of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre.