Acupuncture for Cancer Care
Acupuncture and Cancer Care
Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be scary and overwhelming, but you are not alone. Acupuncture is often used as a complementary care option for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Research has shown a lot of promise for acupuncture providing relief from troubling symptoms associated with treatment such as:
- xerostemia-dry mouth
- hot flashes/night sweats
- swelling after lymph removal
- to decrease emotional stress
- coping and quality of life
Currently, the National Institutes of Health is sponsoring 21 clinical trials evaluating the effectiveness of acupuncture in cancer care. What we know is that patients who received acupuncture along with conventional treatment have not only tolerated their treatment better but also have less troubling side effects.
How is Acupuncture For Cancer Care Given?
Most acupuncture methods use needles, however, acupressure alone or with essential oils can also be used for more sensitive patients. Disposable, stainless steel needles that are about the width of a human hair are inserted into the skin at acupuncture points. The acupuncture practitioner chooses the correct acupuncture points for the problem being treated. The inserted needles may then be manipulated up and down at different speeds, depths, and heated, or charged with a weak electric current. Acupuncture methods include the following:
Auricular acupuncture: Acupuncture needles are placed at acupoints on the outer ear that match up with certain parts of the body.
Studies Done on Acupuncture For Cancer Care
In 1997, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) began studying how well acupuncture worked as a complementary therapy for cancer-related symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatments. Studies of acupuncture in cancer care also have been done in China and other countries.
Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy the strongest evidence for acupuncture have come from clinical trials on the use of acupuncture to relieve nausea and vomiting.
A 2013 review that included 41 randomized controlled trials found that acupuncture helped treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Another review from 11 randomized clinical trials, found that fewer chemotherapy patients in the acupuncture groups had acute vomiting compared to the control group.
A comparison of studies suggests that the specific acupuncture point used may make a difference in how well acupuncture works to relieve nausea caused by chemotherapy.
Patients who received either true acupuncture or sham acupuncture were compared to patients who received only standard care to prevent nausea and vomiting from radiation therapy. The study found that patients in both the true and sham acupuncture groups had less nausea and vomiting than those in the standard care group.
In a 2016 randomized clinical trial of auricular acupressure in 48 breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy, patients who received auricular acupressure had less intense and less frequent nausea and vomiting compared with those who did not have auricular acupressure. These findings are limited since the study had a small number of patients and no placebo group.
Pain Acupuncture has been studied to help relieve pain in cancer patients. The results are mixed due to small sample sizes and study design problems.
Cancer pain in one review, acupuncture reduced cancer pain in some patients with various cancers, although the studies were small. Another review concluded acupuncture with pain medicine worked better than the pain medicine alone. This review was limited by the poor quality of clinical trials.
Postoperative pain in several randomized clinical trials on pain after surgery, acupuncture reduced the pain, but sample sizes were small and additional treatments were unknown. Some studies reported that when acupuncture was used with standard care, pain relief was better. In two randomized clinical trials in patients having a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy, acupressure was found to relieve pain and anxiety compared to sham acupressure.
A review of 17,922 patients reported that real acupuncture relieved pain better than sham acupuncture.
Peripheral neuropathy Several small studies have been done on the use of acupuncture in treating peripheral neuropathy caused by chemotherapy or other anticancer drugs. Most of these studies found acupuncture decreased pain and improved nerve function.
Fatigue Fatigue is a common symptom in patients with cancer and a frequent side effect of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Several randomized clinical trials have studied the use of acupuncture in reducing cancer-related fatigue. These trials found that acupuncture improved fatigue when compared to standard care alone. It is not clear whether real acupuncture works better than sham acupuncture.
A 2016 randomized clinical trial of 78 cancer survivors with cancer-related fatigue showed that infrared laser acupuncture used on certain acupuncture points was safe in cancer patients. Patients who received infrared laser acupuncture 3 times per week for 4 weeks had less fatigue than those who received sham treatment.
A 2016 randomized clinical trial of 288 breast cancer survivors with fatigue that wouldn’t go away showed that two types of acupressure (relaxing and stimulating) significantly reduced cancer-related fatigue.
Dry mouth (xerostomia) Several clinical trials have studied the effect of acupuncture in the treatment and prevention of xerostomia (dry mouth) caused by radiation therapy in patients with nasopharyngeal carcinoma and head and neck cancer.
In studies that compared acupuncture with standard care for preventing dry mouth in patients being treated with radiation therapy, patients treated with acupuncture during radiation therapy had fewer symptoms and better saliva flow.
Two randomized controlled trials compared real and sham acupuncture for the prevention and treatment of dry mouth. These trials found that both real and sham acupuncture increased the flow of saliva.
A study on the long-term effects of acupuncture on dry mouth found that patients had better saliva flow at 6 months compared to before treatment. Patients who received additional acupuncture had more saliva flow at 3 years compared to patients who did not continue acupuncture treatment.
PDQ® Integrative, Alternative, and Complementary Therapies Editorial Board. PDQ Acupuncture. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/acupuncture-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389264]
Click or call 978-701-5125 today to schedule a cancer care acupuncture appointment, and let’s take the first steps toward helping to alleviate some of the troubling side-effects of cancer treatment.