Home | Site Map | Links | Downloads | Frequently Asked Questions

Shop Online | Contact Us

donate online button

Briefing Papers

The Bristol Approach uses the complementary therapies and self help techniques outlined below to help people with cancer to change the way they live with cancer and more easily manage the day to day challenges and problems a diagnosis brings.

  1. Nutritional Therapy
  2. Psycho-neuro-immunology (PNI)
  3. Spiritual Healing
  4. Creative Therapies
  5. Massage & Shiatsu
  6. Relaxation, meditation and visualisation

Nutritional Therapy

Diet and Cancer

It is now widely recognised that poor diet causes as many cancers as smoking, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified that one third of all new cancer cases are preventable through improved diet. The Western diet the WHO is highlighting as a key factor in it�s prediction of a 50% increase in cancers worldwide, is one that leaves people simultaneously overfed and undernourished as it relies on processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat.

Since it was founded in 1980, the Bristol Cancer Help Centre has consistently been ahead of it�s time in recognising the vital importance of healthy eating with regard to cancer prevention and management. The charity�s nutritional recommendations are based on the importance of giving the body the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals* needed to protect us from cancer and strengthen the body�s immune and repair functions.

A recent Institute of Food Research report shows that combining key foods in a wholefood diet can make anti-cancer agents work even harder to strengthen the immune system � the body�s first line of defence against cancer. Above all, increasing the amount and range of fruit and vegetables we eat every day is a vital first step in an anti-cancer diet. The Centre believes five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is the bare minimum needed for a healthy diet, the US Cancer Institute is recommending that men eat nine portions and women seven a day.

People with cancer and those close to them attending the Bristol Cancer Help Centre Bristol Approach residential courses can experience how energising and delicious a wholefood organic diet is � meals are from the Head Chef and Dietary Adviser Jane Sen�s Healing Foods Cookbooks, and the Centre�s food has won a BBC Radio 4 Food Programme award. Bristol Approach course participants also have the opportunity to have one to one and group sessions with the charity�s nutritional therapists to discuss how to use a healthy eating approach in their day to day lives. The charity can also help people to find nutritional solutions to some of the effects of the disease and it�s treatment such as nausea for example. The charity does not use alternative diets such as the Gerson diet on it�s residential Bristol Approach courses. The aim is to introduce people with cancer to gradual and accessible ways to introduce healthy eating into daily life.

Bristol Cancer Help Centre Nutritional Guidelines:-

To summarise the Bristol Cancer Help Centre nutritional guidelines are:

To make gradual changes and add more healthy foods into the daily diet, aiming to:

  1. eat a large variety of fresh fruit and vegetables and include some salad and raw vegetables with meals
  2. increase the range of wholegrains you eat: eg brown rice, barley, millet, and include wholewheat bread and pasta in your diet
  3. include beans and lentils in your meals at least three times a week
  4. sprinkle nuts and seeds on your food daily
  5. use only cold pressed plant oils like olive or sunflower in cooking
  6. start to include freshly made fruit and vegetable juices where possible
  7. drink lots of filtered/spring water � aim for two litres a day

The charity suggests trying to cut down/avoid consumption of foods that are high in toxins and/or hard for the body to digest such as:

  1. red meat, saturated (dairy) fats, smoked/cured foods, refined sugar, processed and refined foods, caffeine, excess alcohol and fizzy drinks


Families of plant chemicals known as phytochemicals are now being shown to protect us from cancer. Some of these chemicals can actually stabilize and repair DNA and RNA in cell nuclei, preventing and reversing the genetic changes that allow cell lines to become cancerous. This means that phytochemicals found in vegetables and fruit are a vital element in protecting our cells from dangerous genetic mutation. Phytochemicals currently under investigation for their ability to hep cellular repair and protection include: Indole-glycosinates found in leafy green vegetables and broccoli, phyto-oestrogens found in soya products, phytates, lignans, protease inhibitors, isoflavonoids and isoflavones present in many plant foods, and are thought to be inhibitors of the oncogenes (the genes that make you predisposed to cancer. Limonene (contained in lemons) and lycopene (in tomatoes) are also anti-cancer phtyochemicals, and susbstances found in shiitake mushrooms, and the seaweeds kombu and kelp interfere with the initiation and promotion of cancer cells. Many other plant chemical families are also under study, in the meantime is clear that plant phytochemicals materials serve both to protect our cells and to render innocuous any potentially carcinogenic substances ingested into the body.

Click here or call the helpline for a copy of our guidelines on The Bristol Approach To Nutrition.

PNI Psycho Neuro Immunology - mind really does matter

The Bristol Approach to cancer care is based on the science of Psycho neuro immunology (PNI), that explores how changes in our thoughts and emotions can bring about changes in our physical health and wellbeing. PNI is a relatively new branch of neurobiology that examine the workings of a complex communications system within our bodies of chemical transmitters or messengers called neuropeptides that affect the functioning of every cell in our body. The first neuropeptides to be discovered were endorphins, the body�s own natural painkillers which are similar in structure to morphine, and can not only kill pain but also create the physical sensation of pleasure. Other neuropeptides are able to stimulate the creation of Natural Killer Cells that our bodies use to kill off damaging cancer cells.

The immune system is the body�s first line of defence against cancer. When we are very anxious, tense, or worried over a long period of time, high levels of the stress hormone cortisol are released (levels can be measured through a simple saliva test) and this can stop the immune system from being fully effective.
Conversely by triggering the release of endorphins - an endorphin effect can be triggered not only by experiencing but also by imagining a pleasurable event, (for example in a guided meditation) we can create a sense of relaxation that promotes physical wellbeing. So activating positive and calming emotions is an immediate way to strengthen your immune system.

People react very differently to a cancer diagnosis but common reactions can include feelings of grief, anger, shock, fear and an overwhelming sense of loss. Waiting for tests and treatment can also add to what is already an extremely stressful and difficult situation.
Finding ways to cope in this crisis and to activate those neuropeptides that can help alleviate pain and stimulate a sense of wellbeing is vital to the functioning of the immune system.

This is why learning how to use self-help techniques such as relaxation and visualisation can be so helpful to people with cancer, for both calming and stilling the mind in highly stressful situations, and also allowing the body's natural healing abilities to work at their best.

Interestingly new research by Professor Leslie Walker, a member of the Bristol Cancer Help Centre Therapy Advisory Panel is showing that women who use guided imagery and relaxation techniques during chemotherapy sessions seem to be having significantly improved outcomes.

However it should be recognised that people already facing an isolating and traumatic crisis cannot and should not be facing the added pressure of being expected to be relentlessly positive. Trying to do so would only create more stress, and override the person�s true feelings. Finding ways to safely release emotions that are natural in the face of a cancer diagnosis such as fear anger or shock, and being able to be genuine is vitally important, since so long as these so called �negative� emotions are expressed, the body can still function well. Suppressing emotions however by attempting to constantly put on a brave face for family or friends while neglecting your own needs, can also reduce healthy functioning of the immune system, and cause quite marked tiredness.

Through attending a Bristol Approach residential course, people with cancer can find a supportive environment in which an experienced multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses and complementary therapists can offer a confidential and supportive environment in which people can explore and express their feelings.

PNI shows that by influencing our state of mind it is possible to significantly affect their immune system�s ability to fight disease and restore a healthy balance in the body. For people with cancer, it is helpful to be given access to complementary therapies that can support and energise people to the extent that they can go onto help themselves through use of techniques such as relaxation, meditation and visualisation.

This is why the Bristol Approach uses a combination of complementary therapies such as counselling, art therapy, spiritual healing, massage and shiatsu that enable people to express and release feelings, and self help techniques that give them the tools and strategies to create Mind/body approaches have been shown to improve the quality of life, reduce pain and reduce disability with chronic illness. In addition PNI demonstrates that psychological factors may alter the susceptibility to, or the progression of auto immune disease, infectious disease and cancer, and may help control or reverse underlying disease processes.

Spiritual Healing

Healing is a general term which covers a wide range of applications. It does not, in this context, specifically equate with the verb �to heal�. Rather, it is a method of conveying inner strength � or spiritual strength � from one person to another. We all have an ability to help and heal each other, from the comfort a mother gives a child when she �kisses it better�, to the support of a pat on the back from a friend. These things make others feel better. Healers are people who have chosen to develop and refine this skill and the best doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals come into this category.

Although we may use the term �spiritual�, there is no specific religious dimension to the healing process at the Bristol Centre. But healing does relate to the spiritual essence of an individual and the healer works with an individual according to his or her specific needs. This will take the form of a quiet talk followed by a period of stillness to allow healing energy to be transmitted to the other person giving them strength and calmness. People generally feel very peaceful during and after a healing session, but sometimes a healing crisis is experienced. As the shifting energies release tension they can reveal long-term tiredness or even pain, which may need time to pass through the physical body before the improved pattern is felt. The healer does not necessarily use a physical touch, but they try to be in touch with the person�s inner self or spirit and so refresh or re-energise their depleted energy levels or help people find inner peace of mind and acceptance.

Creative Therapies

Art, music and dance therapies are used as a way of helping people express feelings which are sometimes beyond words. When a person is happy and inspired their body works at its best, and therefore some of the most powerful healing occurs when individuals are actively and passionately involved with projects or activities that excite and interest them. Art, Music and Dance therapy sessions offer a chance to experience the creativity we all possess, allowing us to discover our continuing strengths. Exploring creativity is a powerful, often surprising and joyful way of going deeper into our journeys. No kind of artistic skill is needed and there can never be anything �wrong� about what is created as every image is particular to the person who makes it, and valued as such. In art therapy thoughts and feelings may be expressed through the making of images, to promote self healing, self discovery and insight.

Music Therapy has recently been the subject of rigorous scientific evaluation and it has been demonstrated that cortisol levels are reduced in people during and after music therapy sessions. This evidence conclusively proves what most people have known instinctively for years, that listening to certain types of music in a relaxed state improves ones mood and helps people reach a deeper level of rest and explore a wide range of feelings. All the creative therapies are implemented in an active way with the therapist acting as a facilitator. By taking part, people can gain the creative energy to enable them to project feeling and thoughts which might be difficult to articulate.

Massage & Shiatsu

Relaxation, Meditation and Visualisation

A range of contemplative therapies are employed at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre and each commences with a fundamental relaxation process. It is well known that relaxation is important to health and well being, and this simple self-help technique is easily learned and implemented. Similarly, meditation is also well understood as a way to achieve a peaceful mind. Less well known, though, is visualisation � but, if you ever enjoyed listening to a story being read to you as a child, or heard a radio play and pictured the scenes vividly, then you have had some experience of visualisation. Visualisation, or guided imagery as it is sometimes known, can create in the mind a whole spectrum of emotional experience and can be a very positive and creative tool of the mind.

Practices such as meditation and visualisation help to balance the two halves of our brains - the logical/ constructive left side and the imaginative/feeling right side. To use directed creative thought and images is a way of choosing to be more responsible for the way we think about ourselves. To create positive thoughts when we are ill removes us from the role of victim and empowers us, changing the energy within and assisting the natural healing process.

Common reactions to a cancer diagnosis or recurrence can include anger, fear and a sense of losing control over one�s life. This can lead to a loss of confidence and feelings of depression that may in turn impact on a person�s immune system. However, when feeling more uplifted and positive, the reverse process � a strengthening of the immune system and improvement in a sense of wellbeing - can occur. This is why the Centre uses and teaches self help techniques such as relaxation, meditation and visualisation which can be learnt and practised in the home.

Visualisation does not require effort. The intention is to let go and allow the image to arise from the mind without effort. Imagery may be sensed or felt � it may not necessarily be a visual experience.


 "I used to believe that you either died from cancer or were cured.  The Bristol Approach has helped me to realise that there is an extremely worthwhile middle ground, which is living well with, and despite, cancer."

Nicky Jones