Written by Rachel Jolliffe, Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated June 20, 2017


What is it ?


Qigong is an ancient Chinese treatment. Two different types exist. Internal qigong refers to a physical and mental training method for achieving optimal health in both mind and body which has similarities with tai chi. External qigong refers to a treatment where qigong practitioners direct or emit “energy” to the patient with the intention to clear qi-blockages or to balance the flow of qi within that patient.


Qigong practitioners claim to use energy to heal patients. This “energy” is, however, not energy as defined by science and has so far not been measured reproducibly with scientific methods.

Application and dosage

Internal qigong is usually practised on a daily basis. Each session is 20 minutes to 1 hour long and supervised by a person experienced in qigong. External qigong is normally practised 1-2 times per week. Each session normally lasts 30-60 minutes, sometimes several hours.


Qigong is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and shares its long history. Qigong teachers are often people with no medical background or training who have learnt the technique on a vocational basis.

Claims of efficacy/mechanism of action

According to TCM-philosophy, “qigong facilitates the movement of qi, the vital life energy, throughout the body, thereby enhancing health and healing disease”1. Normalizing the flow of qi energy, would, according to qigong proponents, be expected to be helpful for any type of illness, including cancer. Most qigong teachers would claim that this therapy is effective in symptom control rather than in changing the natural history of cancer. Some proponents, however, claim that Guolin Qigong can cure cancer.

In vitro experiments have suggested that external qigong induces apoptosis and inhibition of cancer cell invasion2-5. Animal experiments have implied that it inhibits tumour growth6. Some studies have suggested that it decreases leukopenia in breast cancer patients7.

Alleged indications

Qigong is often recommended for a wide range of conditions including musculoskeletal pain8, tinnitus9, stress10, burnout11, hypertension12 and anxiety13. The treatment is traditionally used by older patients14. In the area of cancer, the main indications are to alleviate the symptoms associated with cancer and cancer therapy, as well as improve quality of life and well-being.

Prevalence of use

In some Asian countries, e.g. China and Korea, qigong has a long tradition and is highly popular. In western countries, qigong is becoming more widely used. Precise prevalence figures are not available.

Legal issues

In some countries, e.g. the UK, it is illegal for qigong practitioners to claim to be able to cure cancer. In most countries, ‘qigong practitioner/teacher’ is not a protected title which means anybody, regardless of background, experience or training can adopt it.

Cost and expenditure

Internal qigong is often practised in groups and is thus normally inexpensive. External qigong is time-consuming and a practitioner may charge £50-100 (Euros 55-110) per session. Regular treatment is commonly advised.

Citation Rachel Jolliffe, Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Qigong [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Qigong. June 20, 2017.


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