While cancer survival rates are increasing due to advancements in cancer treatment, the treatments themselves are still very taxing to the body, causing numerous debilitating side-effects. Acupuncture is a perfect complementary option to lessen these side effects, alleviate pain and help strengthen the body. Because of this, many elite cancer care facilities including Moffitt Cancer Center, Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Naval Medical Center (San Diego) offer acupuncture services.
Oriental Medicine for Cancer:
Oriental Medicine is the oldest, continually practiced form of medicine in the world. It is just as valuable today as ever, because it emphasizes the re-establishment of natural balance and utilizes the body’s innate healing wisdom to gently address the underlying causes of symptoms.
Though it is a complete medical system, most Doctors of Oriental Medicine do not treat cancer per se. Instead, we offer supportive treatment, using acupuncture, Chinese herbs and nutritional counseling to reduce the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, relieve pain, and to provide support for the overall health of the body.
Oriental Medicine for Nausea & Vomiting:
Nausea, vomiting and poor appetite are common side effects of chemotherapy. Even with the best anti-nausea medications, 60% of chemotherapy patients still experience nausea and vomiting (Collins). Acupuncture has been found by many research studies to greatly reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting; in fact, the National Institute of Health endorses its use. For example, in England, a study of 130 cancer patients found that when acupuncture was added 97% had reduced or no sickness after chemotherapy (Dundee). Numerous other studies support the same findings (Aglietti, Deng, Reindl, Molassiotis).
Acupuncture for Pain:
Because Acupuncture and Chinese herbs enhance the circulation of energy and blood through the body, it can decrease the swelling and pain of surgery, and the pain of cancer itself. To illustrate, in 2005, the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association reported on several studies: In one, the majority of 250 patients with gynecologic cancer had enhanced pain relief when acupuncture was administered as an adjunct to anesthesia (Menefee). Another study found substantial pain reduction in patients receiving ear acupuncture (Menefee). Cancer treatment–related pain, muscle and bladder spasms, and vascular problems all are found to improve with acupuncture (Alimi, Deng, Menefee).
Acupuncture for Increased Immunity and Energy:
Acupuncture helps build the immune system and increase the rate of healing, as well as boost energy levels. It is ideal to use concurrent to cancer treatment (to reduce side-effects), before treatment (to help prepare the body) and after treatment (to build strength and prevent recurrence).
While it is advisable to not take Chinese herbal medicine during chemotherapy treatment, to avoid possible interactions, it is quite helpful to take individually prescribed Chinese herbal formulas before chemo has begun, and after it is complete. Several studies reviewed in Acupuncture Today (Sept 2005 edition) show that combining Chinese herbal formulas with conventional therapies leads to better treatment results with fewer hemoglobin changes, higher white blood cell counts, and lower recurrence rates than conventional therapy alone (Fratkin). In another study, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, acupuncture was shown to reduce post-chemotherapy fatigue by 31% (breastcancer.org, Cohen).
Acupuncture for other chemotherapy–related problems:
Acupuncture can help with a host of other chemotherapy related problems: Because there is evidence that acupuncture can assist a variety of psychoneurological issues, researchers at UCLA recommend that physicians support their patients’ decision to use acupuncture for chemotherapy-associated cognitive dysfunction (Johnston). Acupuncture is also useful to treat patients with radiation-induced xerostomia (lack of salivation), as well as patients with shortness of breath, depressed mood, leg swelling due to removal of lymph nodes, and menopausal symptoms due to anti-estrogen therapy. Acupuncture also improves arm mobility following lymph node removal from the chest area (Cohen, Filshie, Mehling, Menefee, Rydholm).
In my own clinic, I have also used acupuncture to alleviate dizziness after radiation therapy, and scar tissue pain from cancer surgery.
For those who are needle shy, a treatment alternative is acupressure massage. Using the same acu-points, acupressure applies gentle sustained pressure, rather than needles. It is a perfect choice for those who fear needles, or who just want to experience supportive touch.
A welcome added effect of acupuncture/acupressure is the deep sense of relaxation and wellbeing that is often experienced during and after the treatments; it can greatly increase a cancer patient’s quality of life.
Cancer care is one of my passions, so I have become certified in “Acupuncture for the Cancer Patient” from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I provide acupuncture, acupressure and nutritional counseling to patients in all various stages of all various types of cancer to alleviate discomfort, and to enhance energy, appetite and immune function.
I generally do not prescribe Chinese herbal medicine to patients undergoing chemotherapy, but I do like to provide it for patients who are complete with their chemotherapy treatments, or are not candidates for chemotherapy, to enhance their digestion, vital energy, and immune system.
For more info on the care I provide for Cancer patients, please see my Cancer support website page.
Dawn Balusik, AP, DOM
(Excerpts published in Tampa Bay Wellness, Oct 2007)
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