Can an Ancient Healing System practiced for thousands of years be useful in the modern cancer care setting? The National Cancer Institute says YES!
Acupuncture has demonstrated benefit to cancer patients in the following areas:
Pain Management: Acupuncture is very effective for managing pain related to tumors, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and inflammation. Cancer itself is a painful disease and the treatments for cancer cause pain, swelling and inflammation. Additionally, many of the treatments for management of cancer pain cause side effects such as constipation, confusion, nausea, difficulty urinating and respiratory depression. Patients who receive acupuncture may be able to use lower doses of pain medications.
Immune System Modulation: Many cancers and many cancer treatments cause a suppression of the bone marrow, the source of blood cells that are the army of the immune system. Acupuncture increases blood cell production and enhances Natural Killer Cells and Lymphocytes which leads to increased immune response and decreased risk of infection.
Inflammation: Increased inflammation is a part of the physiology of cancer. Many of the treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery also cause painful inflammation. Acupuncture reduces the pain and swelling related to inflammation.
Nausea and Vomiting: Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of nausea and vomiting in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
Dry, Painful Mouth and Throat: Cancer patients receiving radiation to the head and neck experience dry mouth due to the reduction in saliva production. Additionally, radiation treatments lead to pain and swelling in the mouth and throat making it very difficult to swallow. These patients often lose their sense of taste as well. Acupuncture has been shown to decrease these side effects allowing the patient to be able to swallow, eat and drink normally, protect the health of the teeth and gums and reduce the incidence of infections, pain and swelling in the mouth and throat during radiation therapy.
Sleep: Cancer patients suffer sleep disruption and insomnia due to post-surgical discomfort, anxiety and depression and physical pain. By relieving these symptoms the cancer patient is able to get the deep sleep and rest required for recovery and healing.
Hot Flashes in Breast Cancer Patients: Many women undergoing hormonal treatment for breast cancer experience hot flashes that disrupt sleep and activities of daily living. Acupuncture has been shown to decrease the frequency and intensity of hot flashes for breast cancer patients. Although these studies on management of hot flashes with acupuncture were done in women breast cancer patients, men with prostate cancer also experience hot flashes during hormonal treatment and would benefit from acupuncture.
Quality of Life: By managing the side effects of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapies, reducing pain and inflammation, improving sleep, supporting normal digestive function and reducing stress the quality of life of cancer patients is improved by acupuncture treatments. Eugene Mak, MD, a board certified oncologist states that acupuncture ” can also add to the patients’ sense of well being and decrease the malaise associated with any chronic disease, especially cancer….and imparts a sense of well being and accelerates patients’ recovery.”
Research on the use of acupuncture in the cancer care setting is ongoing. Investigations include the benefits of acupuncture to treat many cancer related symptoms including loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, cough, bone pain, chest pain, dizziness, fatigue and anxiety and depression in cancer patients.
Acupuncture is recommended to cancer patients at the Mayo Clinic and at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Today, many oncologists refer their patients for acupuncture treatment to manage cancer symptoms and cancer treatment related symptoms. Many cancer treatment centers now have Licensed Acupuncturists on staff to help patients manage the many challenges of the cancer journey.
Dr Chilkov serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Mederi Foundation, which serves to promote a holistic, integrative approach to healing through education and clinical research programs with an emphasis on providing primary healthcare to those with cancer and chronic illnesses.
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