Acupuncture and Oriental medicine have received much attention as an adjunctive therapy in cancer treatments because they address many of the unpleasant symptoms and side effects that come up during and after chemotherapy, radiation, biological therapy and surgery.
According to the National Cancer Institute, acupuncture may cause physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. It is proposed that, by stimulating physical responses in these areas, acupuncture positively affects blood pressure and body temperature, boosts immune system activity, and causes the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to be released.
Clinical trials have examined the effects of acupuncture on cancer as a disease, as well as the symptoms caused by cancer treatments. Results have shown that, for many patients, treatment with acupuncture relieves symptoms or keeps them from getting worse.
Relief for Nausea and Vomiting:
The strongest evidence of the beneficial effect of acupuncture has come from clinical trials that investigated its use for relieving nausea and vomiting. Several types of clinical trials using different acupuncture methods showed acupuncture reduced nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy and surgery.
Boosts the Immune System:
Human studies on the effect of acupuncture on the immune system of cancer patients showed that it improved immune system response, including an increase in the number of white blood cells.
Improves Pain Management:
In clinical studies, acupuncture reduced pain levels for some cancer patients. In one study, most of the patients treated with acupuncture were able to stop taking drugs for pain relief or to reduce their doses.
Relieves Pain and Stiffness during Hormone Therapy:
In 2010, the Journal of Clinical Oncology published the results of a small study that concluded that acupuncture helped relieve pain and stiffness in breast cancer patients who were simultaneously being treated with hormone therapies.
Minimizes Dry Mouth:
In 2009, the medical journal Head and Neck reported the results of a pilot study done at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The subjects were people suffering from head and neck cancer. The authors concluded that the pilot study demonstrated that acupuncture can improve the subjective symptoms of radiation-induced dry mouth as early as two weeks after starting treatment. They found that benefits can last for one month after treatment ends.
A study published in January 2000 in the medical journal Oral Diseases, confirms the efficacy of treating xerostomia with acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Researchers analyzed the data of 70 patients who suffered from dry mouth due to radiation therapies, Sjogren’s disease, and other causes. Researchers discovered that patients who received 24 acupuncture treatments had an outstanding improvement in their salivary flow rate (SFR) for up to six months after treatment. It was also concluded that continued acupuncture treatments could increase one’s salivary flow rate for up to three years.
Reduces Pain and Shoulder Dysfunction:
In 2008, Dr. David Pfister, chief of the head and neck medical oncology service at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, reported that patients found significant reductions in both dry mouth and pain and shoulder dysfunction after neck dissection with the help of acupuncture. Dr. Pfister highlighted the potential role of acupuncture in oncology.
Reduces Hot Flashes:
In 2011 a Yale University/University of Pittsburgh study of women with hot flashes brought on by conventional breast cancer treatment, found that women who received acupuncture had a 30 percent reduction in hot flashes.