Can Acupuncture Help Cancer Patients?

by Dr. Nalini Chilkov

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.

To find a qualified acupuncturist www.acufinder.com. Learn more about acupuncture

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.

References
1. Wong R, Sagar CM, Sagar SM: Integration of Chinese medicine into supportive cancer care: a modern role for an ancient tradition. Cancer Treat Rev 27 (4): 235-46, 2001.
2. Pan CX, Morrison RS, Ness J, et al.: Complementary and alternative medicine in the management of pain, dyspnea, and nausea and vomiting near the end of life. A systematic review. J Pain Symptom Manage 20 (5): 374-87, 2000.
3. Norheim AJ, Fonnebo V: Attitudes to the contribution of placebo in acupuncture–a survey. Complement Ther Med 10 (4): 202-9, 2002.
4. Sellick SM, Zaza C: Critical review of 5 nonpharmacologic strategies for managing cancer pain. Cancer Prev Control 2 (1): 7-14, 1998.
5. Charlton JE: Cancer pain management. Cah Anesthesiol 41 (6): 621-4, 1993.
6. Vickers AJ: Can acupuncture have specific effects on health? A systematic review of acupuncture antiemesis trials. J R Soc Med 89 (6): 303-11, 1996.
7. Xia YQ, Zhang D, Yang CX, et al.: An approach to the effect on tumors of acupuncture in combination with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. J Tradit Chin Med 6 (1): 23-6, 1986.
8. Johnstone PA, Polston GR, Niemtzow RC, et al.: Integration of acupuncture into the oncology clinic. Palliat Med 16 (3): 235-9, 2002
9. Alimi, D. et al. Analgesic Effect of Auricular Acupuncture for Cancer Pain: A Randomized, Blinded, Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2003. 21(22):4120-4126
10. Sagar, S. Acupuncture as an evidence-based option for symptoms control in cancer patients. Current Treatment Options in Oncology. 2008. 9(2-3):117-26.
11. Standish, L. et al. Acupuncture is underutilized in hospice and palliative medicine. American Journal of Hospital and Palliative Care. 2008. 25(4):298-308
12. Lu, W. et al. The value of acupuncture in cancer care. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America. 2008. 22(4):631-48.
13. Paley, C. et al. Acupuncture for Cancer-induced Bone Pain?. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2010. Advance access published online March 24, 2010. doi:10.1093/ecam/neq020.

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Comments

  1. I’ll back again for sure, thanks for great article :D

  2. [...] common side effects of these drugs include hot flashes, sleep disruption, depression and bone loss. These side effects are not relieved by glucosamine and [...]

  3. Dr. Nalini Chilkov says:

    Thanks for your support and for sharing my passion about cancer recovery and health for cancer patients and cancer survivors!

  4. Nada Homssi dadikhi says:

    can you give me a good reference to know wich accupunctuere poits to use ?

  5. One of the best books on acupuncture and chinese medicine in a form accessible to Westerners is The Web That Has No Weaver by Ted Kaptchuk. Selecting acupuncture points is an art. Acupuncture points are selected on a highly individual basis. There is one point called Su San Li (Stomach 36) which has been used for longevity for centuries. In modern times we know that stimulation of this point does in fact increase both red and white blood cells, thus boosting our energy and immunity. It was also used as a digestive point historically. In modern times we know that it increases peristalsis (the wave of contraction that moves food and stool through the digestive tube) This is a beautiful example of the convergence of ancient wisdom and modern science.

  6. Dr. Nalini says:

    The choice of acupuncture points is based on Chinese diagnosis and is highly individualized.
    The famous point SuSanLi (Stomach 36) has been used traditionally for longevity. This point can be stimulated with acupressure massage, acupuncture needle or heat therapy (moxabustion).

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