Getting a cancer diagnosis is life changing and going through cancer treatment can be a very difficult time. There are the side effects of medication to deal with, the anxiety about health, the future, family and finances. There is the added pressure of staying well enough throughout the treatments to be able to stay on course with treatment.
Traditional Chinese Acupuncture has been used to support cancer patients in China for thousands of years, and more recently it is gaining popularity in the West as research in the area grows. I first became interested in the benefits of acupuncture in cancer when my acupuncture teacher in Singapore became a survivor of a very aggressive lung cancer. At the time, he was given a very poor prognosis and was only expected to live a few weeks. Now, 18 years later he still practices and travels world-wide teaching this ancient healing art.
His miraculous experience coupled with my own interest in cancer got me interested in working in this field. The results have been so encouraging that I now see many patients on a daily basis who are affected by cancer.
Acupuncture uses a natural, alternative approach to achieving an overall improvement in the quality of life in the treatment of cancer patients. In addition to reducing stress and bringing balance to the body, Acupuncture has been shown to:
Treat nausea and vomiting from chemo-radiotherapies: Studies done at UCLA School of Medicine showed significantly reduced nausea and vomiting among chemotherapy patients when they were pre-treated with acupuncture. Acupuncture is now routinely administered before, after and between chemotherapy sessions. Another study, completed at Duke University and published in 2002, compared the use of acupuncture to the use of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication, before breast cancer surgery to reduce the nausea that can occur after surgery. The acupuncture treatment was found to work better than Zofran at controlling nausea.
In my experience, there is a significant benefit from acupuncture to relieve nausea and most patients will only use a fraction of their prescribed anti-nausea medication or none at all.
Strengthen the Immune system: Acupuncture not only treats side effects from chemo-radiotherapies but also supports patients by helping them enhance immune function which enables them to remain on schedule with their treatment protocols. Both chemotherapy and radiation strongly suppress the immune system and often treatment will need to be interrupted as the damage to the immune system makes it unsafe to continue. Acupuncture helps to strengthen the body’s immune system by increasing the number of white and red blood cells. During acupuncture treatments, white cell counts stay up high allowing most people to have uninterrupted treatment.
Significantly controls malignant pain resulting in a reduced need for narcotics: Acupuncture at specific sites stimulate the nervous system and release endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers) and activate the body’s own repair mechanisms. A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, found acupuncture to be effective in decreasing pain and depression following surgery in cancer patients. In a French study published in 2003, acupuncture was examined in the treatment of cancer-related pain. Patients treated with acupuncture had a 36% reduction in pain after 2 months of acupuncture treatments, compared with a 2% reduction in pain in the patients receiving a placebo type of acupuncture.
For those suffering from pain, Acupuncture can provide a better quality of life, especially for those in individuals in late-stage cancer.
Helps severe dry mouth as a side effect of chemo or radiotherapies: Both chemotherapy and radiation can leave cancer patients with an uncomfortably dry mouth. A recent study has shown that acupuncture may help reduce this side effect significantly (more information at the end of this article). Specific points in the ear are used to regulate the autonomic nervous system by activating the salivary glands bringing much needed relief.
Reduces the fatigue associated with cancer treatment: In one study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, acupuncture was shown to reduce post-chemotherapy fatigue by 31% in people with various types of cancer. In fact, this is one area where acupuncture is known to have its most beneficial effect. I’ve come to appreciate that simply by gently supporting the body systems, energy is more accessible in the body. For cancer patients, this means being able to more or less maintain their daily schedules. Although having said that, it is necessary for these individuals to slow down and simplify their lives during treatment.
Reduces hot flashes in hormonal treatments: In 2005, another preliminary study of breast cancer patients in Sweden showed that acupuncture reduced hot flashes by half. This can make a significant difference to the quality of life of an individual.
Helps reduce the stress associated with cancer: A diagnosis of cancer inevitably brings anxiety and stress to those affected by the illness as well as their families. Loss of health, loss of income (if you’re self employed), worries about the future, concerns about treatment effects and outcomes, feelings of powerlessness. The list is endless. Acupuncture helps to relieve the stress experienced by those affected by cancer, but also because it is a holistic therapy it can help process the emotions in a healthier way. One of the strengths of acupuncture is its ability to work on the emotional level, helping to process grief, anger, anxiety and depression.
In summary, acupuncture can be a great way to support the body and mind during cancer treatment.
Breast Cancer Testimonial:
In July 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes I needed chemotherapy. Since October 2008 I have had regular acupuncture sessions. These sessions have vastly reduced the impact of any nausea I may have had. After the last chemotherapy session I took only 4 of the anti-nausea pills instead of the recommended 24 and had no nausea symptoms at all.
I feel that the acupuncture has also helped me minimize or eliminate some of the other side effects i.e. increased energy levels, bowel problems, mouth ulcers, colds sores. My white cell count even began to increase after treatments. In addition, my appetite has been excellent throughout the treatment.
From my experience, I am sure that many patients would benefit from acupuncture in some way and it is certainly preferable to adding more synthetic medication to an already overloaded body.
Acupuncture practitioner requirements
If you have been diagnosed with cancer and want to try acupuncture, be sure that your practitioner has experience in treating people with cancer. Members of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) have completed a thorough training of at least three years in traditional acupuncture and biomedical sciences appropriate to the practice of acupuncture. They carry the letters MBAcC after their name. The BAcC maintains common standards of education, ethics, discipline and practice to ensure the health and safety of the public at all times.
NaturalNews: Feb 2009: Acupuncture outperformed one of the most common non-hormonal drugs prescribed for menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, in a study conducted by researchers from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and presented at a meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology. “It’s been tested directly against a drug that we use regularly. And it’s more effective,” said lead researcher Eleanor Walker. “It has benefits, as opposed to any side-effects.” Menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes are common side effects of breast cancer treatment. Such symptoms are often treated with antidepressants, since hormone replacement therapy may increase the risk of cancer recurrence. Concern over side effects, however, keeps many women from taking these drugs. In the current study, Effexor patients reported side effects including anxiety, dizziness, fatigue, headache, elevated blood pressure, nausea and sleeping trouble. No negative side effects were reported from acupuncture, however, even though the Chinese medicine was just as effective as the antidepressant at reducing the number and severity of hot flashes. Furthermore, while the effects of Effexor only lasted for two weeks after treatment had ended, symptoms remained reduced for 15 weeks after the end of acupuncture treatment. “It was a more durable effect,” Walker said. “If you only have to give women treatment three to four times a year as opposed to having to take a pill every day, that’s going to be more cost-effective.”Acupuncture helps in Cancer Treatment
With its debut at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting earlier this year in Chicago, a new study was released specific to acupuncture’s help in the cancer fight. The research was limited to head and neck cancer patients. Most head and neck cancers are usually treated with a neck dissection—a surgical procedure to remove lymph nodes in the neck that may be cancerous—some of these can involve removing all the lymph nodes as well as muscles in the neck that could be harmed by tumors and then most patients follow up surgery with radiation to shrink the tumors. Patients often complain of severe cases of dry mouth, nausea, chronic pain (especially if their muscles and nerves were removed), and vomiting due to the radiation therapy. The study Acupuncture Reduces Pain and Dysfunction in Head and Neck Cancer Patients after Neck Dissection done by Dr. David Pfister of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center picked 70 random patients to research over a period of four weeks. All the patients had been recovered from radiation and surgery for three months prior to the study. They were put into two groups: acupuncture and usual care (physical therapy and/or anti-inflammatory drugs). The acupuncture group had a 39 percent improvement in dry mouth, pain and movement dysfunction over the usual care group which had only a 7 percent improvement.