The Blog of Minnesota Community Acupuncture

Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment

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istock_000015168186xsmall5Increasingly studies are showing that acupuncture is a very effective adjunct therapy for patients undergoing cancer treatments.  Acupuncture has proven effective in managing cancer-related symptoms, treating side effects induced by chemotherapy or radiation therapy, boosting blood cell count, and enhancing lymphocyte and natural killer (NK) cell activity.  Commonly treated symptoms include cancer pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, weight loss, fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, poor appetite, mouth dryness, hot flashes, peripheral neuropathy, and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Studies suggest that acupuncture is useful in anticancer therapy either by actively stimulating immune activity or by preventing chemotherapy suppression of immune activity.  At least seven human studies have evaluated the effects of acupuncture on immune system function in patients with cancer.  They have found that acupuncture enhances platelet count and prevents leukocyte decrease after radiation therapy or chemotherapy; that those undergoing chemotherapy and acupuncture treatment experienced no declines in T cells or in NK (natural killer) cell activity, both of which are usually suppressed by chemotherapy; that acupuncture produces an improvement in leukocyte count and immunoglobulin levels; and that treatment with acupuncture significantly increases the activity of natural killer and other immune system cells which fight disease.

Cancer-related pain and postoperative pain can be significantly reduced with acupuncture treatments.  In one study of patients with malignant tumors who developed pain, all experienced various degrees of pain relief and 83% were able to either reduce or eliminate their analgesic drugs following multiple acupuncture treatments.  In a study investigating the effect of acupuncture in postoperative pain management and arm movement in breast cancer patients, those treated with acupuncture on the 3rd, 5th, and 7th days after surgery and on the day of discharge from the hospital had significant pain relief during arm movement on the 5th and 7th days following surgery and at the time of discharge.  The range of motion also increased during the postoperative period.  A case review of acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy showed reduced symptoms in 82% of patients receiving acupuncture.

A wide variety of studies have consistently demonstrated the very positive effects of acupuncture on cancer-related or chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.  One study found a statistically significant benefit of both vitamin B6 and acupuncture, and that acupuncture alone, compared with vitamin B6, had a greater benefit in reducing the frequency of vomiting.  Acupuncture has also been used to relieve radiation-induced nausea and vomiting; those patients who were randomly assigned to receive acupuncture experienced fewer episodes of nausea and vomiting than those who received standard care.

A number of studies have investigated the effect of acupuncture for the treatment and prevention of dry mouth syndrome in cancer patients.  Acupuncture resulted in a decrease in the onset of symptoms and an increased saliva flow in studies that compared acupuncture with standard care for preventing dry mouth in patients undergoing radiation therapy.

Many studies have reported on the beneficial effects of acupuncture on cancer or other cancer-treatment related symptoms including weight loss, cough, expectoration of blood, fever, anxiety, depression, voice disorders, and postoperative swelling.  In one randomized clinical trial of patients with esophageal, gastric or lung cancer, the data showed that the patients in the acupuncture group gained significantly more body weight than patients in the control group.  The acupuncture group also showed greater improvement than the controls in the symptoms of cough, chest pain, expectoration of blood, and fever for patients with lung cancer, and the symptoms of chest pain, mucus vomiting, and difficulty in swallowing for patients with esophageal cancer.  In addition, the acupuncture group suffered fewer side effects (poor appetite, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, or fatigue) from radiation therapy or chemotherapy than the control group.

For more information, see the National Cancer Institute’s website at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/acupuncture/healthprofessional/page5/

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