Acupuncture For Cancer Pain & Side Effects

Table of Contents

What are common side effects of cancer treatments?

Common side effects in Cancer treatments

Research on acupuncture began in the United States in 1976. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the acupuncture needle as a medical device twenty years later. Its principal use is to control symptoms related to cancer. Some of the common side effects and symptoms associated with cancer treatments are listed below:

–       Pain

–       Fatigue

–       Nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy

–       Weight loss

–       Anxiety

–       Depression

–       Insomnia

–       Poor appetite

–       Dry mouth

–       Hot flashes

–       Nerve problems

–       Constipation and diarrhea

Is acupuncture effective for treating cancer pain?

Acupuncture benefits for Cancer Care

Acupuncture is based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along with a network of paths, called meridians. Qi is thought to affect a person’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical condition. According to TCM, qi has two forces, Yin, and Yang. Yin and Yang are opposite forces that work together to make a whole. The forces of yin and yang depend on each other and are created from one another in an unending cycle, such as hot and cold, day and night, and disease and health. It is not possible for anything to be all Yin or all Yang, the existence of both is in all things, including people. Lots of the main organs of the body are thought to be Yin-Yang pairs that have to be in equilibrium to be healthy. When an individual’s Yin and Yang aren’t in balance, qi may get blocked. Blocked qi causes pain, illness, or other medical issues. TCM uses acupuncture, diet, herbal treatment, meditation, physical exercise, and massage to restore health by unblocking qi and adjusting the balance of yin and yang within the individual.

The earliest known medical book in China from the second century BC describes the use of needles to treat medical issues. Using acupuncture then spread to other Asian nations and to other areas of the world, including to Europe from the 1700s. In the USA, acupuncture has been used for approximately 200 years.

The most common kind of acupuncture involves the placement of strong, sterile, thin, stainless steel needles into various points on the body. Different techniques may be used to stimulate the needles. Neuroscience research suggests that acupuncture works by altering the nervous system through stimulation of specific points across the body. The use of very thin needles to those things, or needling, releases neurotransmitters, like endorphins and dopamine, which relieve pain and stimulate feelings of wellbeing.

Research has revealed that Acupuncture was helpful in managing a vast array of cancer symptoms within a 6-week period. These signs included psychological fatigue, bodily pain, anxiety, and depression. Acupuncture also seems to help with nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, hot flashes related to hormone therapy, joint pain linked to aromatase inhibitor treatment, and Physical pain Acupuncture is a modality frequently administered over several sessions. Recent medical research in the US has shown that acupuncture seems to be a safe and effective supplemental treatment for folks that experience certain symptoms of cancer. It may also help handle some side effects of therapy, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone treatment.

How can Acupuncture help with cancer?

Acupuncture may cause physical reactions in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and portions of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a range of body functions. It’s proposed that this way, acupuncture affects blood pressure and body temperature, boosts immune system activity, and causes the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to be discharged.

According to TCM, qi can be unblocked by utilizing acupuncture at certain places on the skin, called acupoints. Acupoints are places where the meridians come to the surface of the body. There are more than 360 acupoints on the body, with specific acupoints for each condition being treated. 

Types of Acupuncture for managing cancer symptoms

Some acupuncture methods used for managing pain and other emotional and psychological symptoms after cancer treatments  such as chemotherapy or radiation include the following:

Electroacupuncture: A process in which pulses of weak electrical current are sent through acupuncture needles into acupoints in the epidermis.

Trigger point acupuncture: The placing of acupuncture needles at a location on the skin that’s away from the painful area of the body. Trigger points must do with referred pain, pain that isn’t felt at the site of injury but is sent along nerves and felt everywhere in the body.

Laser acupuncture: The use of a weak laser beam rather than an acupuncture needle to excite an acupoint.

Acupuncture point injection: The use of a syringe and needle to inject drugs, vitamins, herbal extracts, or other fluids to the body with an acupoint.

Microwave acupuncture: The use of a microwave device attached to an acupuncture needle to deliver microwave radiation into an acupoint.

Acupressure: a kind of massage therapy where the fingers are utilized to press an acupoint. In cancer patients, acupressure was used to control symptoms like pain or nausea and vomiting.

Moxibustion: a sort of heat treatment where an herb is burned over the body to heat a meridian with an acupoint and boost the circulation of blood and qi. The herb may be put directly on the skin, held close to the skin for many minutes, or put on the tip of an acupuncture needle. Heat lamps may also be used to heat the acupoints.

Cupping: A process in which a round glass cup is heated and placed upside down over an area of the body, creating a vacuum that holds the cup to the skin. Cupping is used to boost the circulation of blood and qi. It’s thought to open up the skin pores and allow toxins to leave the body.

Is acupuncture safe for cancer patients?

There have been only a few complications reported. Problems are due to using needles that aren’t sterile (free of germs) and from putting the needle in the incorrect location, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle. Problems include pain and soreness during sessions; feeling tired, lightheaded, or exhausted; and infections. Because chemotherapy and radiation treatment weaken the body’s immune system, a rigorous clean needle method must be utilized when acupuncture treatment is given to cancer patients. It’s important to get treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner who utilizes a new pair of disposable (single-use) needles for every individual.

Is acupuncture approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use as a cancer treatment in America?

The use of acupuncture needles by licensed practitioners was approved by the US FDA in 1996. The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and they are labeled for only a single use by qualified professionals only. 

District of Columbia and over 40 states in the US  have laws regulating acupuncture practice. Most states require the certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org ) that certifies practitioners of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). 

Scientific Studies in Acupuncture for Cancer

Acupuncture is usually used as an addition to conventional (standard) therapy for cancer patients, or as an Integrative Therapy. Scientific studies on the use of acupuncture for cancer and its side effects began only recently. In studies done on animals in the laboratory suggest that vomiting caused by chemotherapy may be reduced by acupuncture and this may help the immune system to be stronger during chemotherapy. Animal studies support the use of electroacupuncture to relieve cancer pain. Laboratory and animal studies have also looked at the role of acupuncture in stimulating immune functions, including increasing blood cell count and enhancing lymphocyte and natural killer cell activity.

Recent medical research in the US has shown that acupuncture seems to be a safe and effective supplemental treatment for folks that experience certain symptoms of cancer. It may also help handle some side effects of therapy, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, and hormone treatment. In U.S. many leading cancer centers are integrating acupuncture into cancer care. These centers include Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. [1]

As an example, an analysis of 302 individuals with breast cancer discovered that acupuncture was useful in handling a huge array of cancer symptoms within a 6-week period. These signs included psychological fatigue, bodily pain, anxiety, and depression. [2]

Acupuncture also seems to help with physical pain, joint pain associated with aromatase inhibitor treatment, nausea, and vomiting related to chemotherapy, hot flashes associated with hormone therapy and xerostomia related to radiation treatment.

Studies for acupuncture by cancer symptoms

Studies of the effect of acupuncture on the immune system: Human studies on the effect of acupuncture on the immune system have been completed.

Studies of the effect of acupuncture on pain: In clinical trials, acupuncture reduced the quantity of pain in certain cancer patients. In 1 study, the majority of the patients undergoing acupuncture sessions could stop taking medication for pain relief or to take smaller doses. The findings from these studies aren’t regarded as strong, however, due to flaws in study design and dimensions. Studies with strict scientific methods are required to prove how acupuncture affects pain.

Studies of the effect of acupuncture on joint and muscle pain from aromatase inhibitors: Aromatase inhibitors, a kind of hormone therapy for postmenopausal women who have hormone-dependent breast cancer, can lead to joint and muscle pain. A randomized study found that acupuncture was a lot more effective in relieving joint stiffness and pain compared to sham (inactive) acupuncture in patients taking aromatase inhibitors.

Studies of the effect of acupuncture on nausea and vomiting caused by cancer treatments: The most powerful evidence of the effect of acupuncture has come from clinical trials on the use of acupuncture to alleviate nausea and vomiting. Several types of clinical trials using different acupuncture methods revealed acupuncture decreased nausea and vomiting brought on by chemotherapy, surgery, and morning sickness. It seems to be more successful in preventing nausea than in reducing nausea.

A study for patients suffering from nausea and vomiting in patients treated with chemotherapy for ovarian cancer: A study of acupuncture, vitamin B6 injections, or both found that acupuncture and vitamin B6 together gave greater relief from nausea than acupuncture or vitamin B6 alone.

A study of acupuncture for relief of nausea and vomiting was done in women undergoing chemotherapy. The research found that acupuncture applied to an acupuncture point with a wristband helped to reduce nausea and vomiting and decreased the quantity of medicine the women employed for those symptoms.

A study of acupuncture for relief of nausea and vomiting was done in patients undergoing radiation treatment. Patients who received either acupuncture or sham acupuncture were compared to patients who received standard care. The study found that patients in both the true and sham acupuncture groups developed less nausea and vomiting than those in the conventional care group.


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