The Role of Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment



Acupuncture is used as both an alternative and a complementary cancer therapy and is utilized for cancer and associated treatment symptoms.

Alternative therapy is a plan of care that is utilized instead of the traditionally recommended therapy. Complementary therapy works hand-in-hand with traditional therapies. For more information on complementary and alternative therapies for cancer see the Battling Cancer archives.

The American Cancer Society lists important guidelines to understanding these therapies to help the cancer patient make informed decisions.

Mayo Clinic lists acupuncture in it’s list of recommended alternative treatments saying :

“Alternative cancer treatments can’t cure your cancer, but they may provide some relief from signs and symptoms caused by cancer and cancer treatments. Common signs and symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, difficulty sleeping, and stress may be lessened by alternative treatments.”

In fact many cancer treatment facilities offer acupuncture as part of their complementary and alternative therapy programs.

Check out MD Anderson’s CancerWise for an in depth interview with an acupuncture physician, The American Cancer Society site on acupuncture.

So how does acupuncture work? There are several theories.

The Western culture theory of acupuncture is that it stimulates nerves, muscles and connective tissues also stimulating the blood flow and stimulating the body’s endorphins to relieve pain or relieves pain via the gate theory. The gate theory is that of not removing pain but of blocking pain.

The Eastern theory of acupuncture is that energy flows through the body at meridians. When these meridians are blocked pain and illness ensue. Acupuncture restores this flow and energy harmony. This Youtube video explains this theory.

Acupuncture sessions require the placement of sterile needles which are inserted at key points and remain in place for approximately twenty minutes.

Acupuncture Facts from the American Academy of Medical Acupuncture:

  • Non-physician acupuncturists are required by law in most states to use disposable one-time-use sterilized needles. Physicians because of their experience and background in infection control have the prerogative of using re-usable sterilized needles. These needles would need to be sterilized in the same way as any surgical instrument.
  • While the degree of beneficial results from acupuncture treatment is dependent on various clinical factors such as presenting symptoms, clinical staging, timing of the encounter in the course of the illness, areas of involvement, the answer to the opening question “can acupuncture help me?” is, in all probability, that it can help in the care of the cancer patient.
  • Acupuncture treatments vary because of the wide variations in the styles of acupuncture performed. Generally three to fifteen needles will be placed. Costs vary depending on locale and practitioners training and experience.

As with any plan of care, acupuncture should be researched and customized to meet your individual needs and must be discussed thoroughly with your health care team.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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