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We have all been touched in our lives by cancer. A mother. A daughter. A cousin. A friend. Cancer does not discriminate. Most commonly, I see patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer of varying stages and types.
Western treatment typically consists of a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In reality, when we are supporting patients with cancer, it doesn't matter too much what type of cancer they have, it matters the treatment they are receiving. The different treatment types, and chemotherapy types, have their own set of symptoms that can occur; nausea, insomnia, neuropathy, bone pain, etc.
My goal as an alternative healthcare practitioner is to not treat the cancer, but to support the body through western treatment to lessen negative symptoms.
Acupuncture for Chemotherapy Nausea
Acupuncture is a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine, that dates back thousands of years. Acupuncture uses small, thin, solid needles inserted into specific points on the body to affect body biochemistry, or Qi.
One of the most common side effects of chemotherapy is nausea and vomiting. During treatments patient's are often given Benedryl and Zofran to help lessen symptoms. Often it does not work.
A study done at Baylor University Medical Center concluded:
Acupuncture is recommended as a complementary therapy when nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy are poorly controlled...Randomized controlled, parallel, and crossover studies demonstrated the benefit of electroacupuncture in acute chemotherapy-induced vomiting (within 24 hours after chemotherapy)...Acupuncture is thought to be a very cost-effective therapy for nausea control in patients receiving chemotherapy."
Another study, from Duke University 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.
Acupuncture for Chemotherapy Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is another common chemotherapy side effects characterized by numbness & tingling, numbness, and pain in the extremities. Acupuncture, again, has been shown to be a safe and effective treatment for chemotherapy induced neuropathy.
Chemotherapy is a mix of strong medications that kill cancer cells. Typically they work by attaching the DNA and RNA of the cells. Chemotherapy is not precise and it can also affect healthy cells in the body; hair cells, mucus cells, digestive cells, red blood cells, white blood cells, and nerve cells can all be negatively affected.
Chemotherapy induces a type of oxidative stress within the nerve cells, limiting their ability to function properly. For some this toxicity is temporary and for some the damage is long lasting.
A randomized pilot study done in part by Department of Medical Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. concluded:
Women with CIPN after adjuvant taxane therapy for breast cancer experienced significant improvements in neuropathic symptoms from an 8-week acupuncture treatment regimen. An 8-week acupuncture intervention (vs. usual care) led to a statistically and clinically significant improvement in subjective sensory symptoms including neuropathic pain and paresthesia. Given the lack of effective therapies and established safety profile of acupuncture, clinicians may consider acupuncture as a treatment option for mild to moderate CIPN in practice."
Acupuncture for chemotherapy support is well researched, and provides an alternative to additional medications.
Acupuncture is a safe and effective adjunct therapy to chemotherapy.
A 2018 retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data of 375 cancer survivors who received acupuncture treatments at the MD Anderson Cancer Center Integrative Medicine Center outpatient clinic showed that patients experienced short- and long-term improvement in multiple symptoms including hot flashes, fatigue, numbness, tingling, and nausea.