Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese Medicine practice that dates back to more than 4000 years. It is based on the belief that qi, or vital energy, flows through the body along certain meridian points. Qi is responsible for a person’s physical, emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and it is presumed that illness and pain occur as a result of a disruption or blockage of qi. Acupuncture relieves the blocked qi and restores balance in the body.
How does acupuncture work?
The technique involves utilizing disposable stainless steel needles that are inserted into acupoints in the skin. There are roughly 400 acupuncture points that exist all over the body, and when stimulated, may help to relieve specific conditions and ailments. Most patients report they do not feel any pain during needle insertion, but it is not uncommon to experience a momentary stinging or sharp sensation. Needles are typically placed in the skin for five to twenty minutes and then removed.
How does acupuncture help with cancer?
Acupuncture has been used as a complementary therapy in cancer treatment to control numerous treatment related symptoms including pain, fatigue, weight loss, anxiety, depression, poor appetite, dry mouth, hot flashes, constipation and diarrhea.
Chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting is another common side effect of treatment and has been associated with a reduced quality of life. With over 20 years of research conducted, there has been evidence suggesting when used as an adjunct with antiemetics, acupuncture reduced symptoms of nausea and vomiting in cancer care.
Additional research studies have been conducted examining the effects of acupuncture on patients with head and neck cancers. The study found that patients reported a significant reduction in xerostomia (dry mouth) after receiving concurrent acupuncture and radiation therapy.
Is acupuncture safe?
Evidence-based research has supported the use of acupuncture as a safe and complementary therapy with few complications or side effects. As a result, cancer patients are embracing acupuncture as a non-pharmacologic alternative to alleviating treatment related symptoms and improving quality of life.
It is important that all patients consult their oncologist or healthcare provider before starting or undergoing any complementary therapy.
Acupuncture. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Accessed on February 27, 2014.
Haddad NE, Palesh O. Acupuncture in the treatment of cancer-related psychological symptoms. Integr Cancer Ther. 2014.
Ma, Ling. Acupuncture as a complementary therapy in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2009; 22(2): 138–141.
Meng Z, Garcia MK, Hu C, Chiang J, Chambers M, Rosenthal DI, Peng H, Zhang Y, Zhao Q, Zhao G, Liu L, Spelman A, Palmer JL, Wei Q, Cohen L. Randomized controlled trial of acupuncture for prevention of radiation-induced xerostomia among patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Cancer. 2012; 118(13):3337-44.