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Acupuncture and Cancer Therapy

Living Hope: The Benefits of Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment

Elias Lu, DTCM,

Acupuncture Physician

Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in Tampa Bay, Florida

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  • Acupuncture uses needles, laser, electricity and other tools to stimulate acupuncture points on the skin
  • Acupuncture can help with many symptoms related to cancer and its treatment
  • Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine offers affordable acupuncture treatments in downtown St. Pete and at patients’ homes

Cancer

Cancer incidence is rapidly growing worldwide. There is little evidence to indicate that acupuncture (as opposed to herbs) may treat or cure cancer. That said, acupuncture is increasingly used to treat certain symptoms of cancer itself as well as side effects of cancer therapy, including:

 

Dry mouth (xerostomia)

Patients receiving radiation therapy and/or recovering from head and neck surgery often experience dry mouth. When usual treatments don’t work, acupuncture can provide a degree of relief. Presumably, acupuncture stimulates salivary glands by increasing the release of certain bioactive peptides and/or stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Alternatively, acupuncture may increase saliva production by activating the salivary nuclei in the brain.

 

Fatigue

Tiredness trails the diagnosis of cancer. It can linger years after cancer therapy having a detrimental effect on people’s quality of life. Studies suggested that acupuncture has a positive impact on cancer-related fatigue. Acupuncture affects multiple aspects of homeostasis, including the neuroendocrine, immune, metabolic, and hemodynamic systems – thereby improving fatigue and increasing survival in cancer patients.

 

Hot flashes

Hot flashes and night sweats are common in people receiving treatment for breast, prostate or uterine cancer. The exact mechanism of how acupuncture affects thermoregulation is unknown. Most likely, acupuncture works by regulating the levels of endorphins and/or calcitonin gene-related peptide in the brain.

 

Lymphedema

Lymphoedema is swelling caused by a build-up of lymph fluid in an extremity. It is a common side effect of surgery (removal of lymph nodes) or radiation therapy (scarring of lymph nodes) during cancer treatment. Acupuncture, along with massage, can improve lymph drainage and relieve discomfort in the extremity.

 

Nausea and vomiting

Multiple randomized controlled trials indicate that acupuncture (both body and ear) significantly reduces chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing cancer therapy. Antiemetic properties of acupuncture are most likely associated with regulating the levels of blood neurotransmitters (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, dopamine, and norepinephrine) as well as upregulating the expression of ghrelin and other bioactive neuropeptides.

 

Pain

Dozens of randomized controlled trials have investigated acupuncture’s efficacy in treating cancer pain, postoperative pain, and post-chemo joint/muscle pain. The results confirm that acupuncture, indeed, is a valid complimentary therapy for pain relief in cancer patients. As is the case with other conditions, the exact mechanisms of acupuncture analgesia are still being studied. Researchers are looking at several blood chemicals (β-endorphins, IL-1β, dynorphins, substance P, etc.), Aδ and C nerve fibers, as well as spinal opioid receptors as possibly responsible for pain relief.

 

Peripheral neuropathy

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy may last long after chemotherapy has ended and continue affecting patients’ quality of life. Small studies looked at how acupuncture can be used to reduce numbness, tingling, and burning of peripheral neuropathy. The results are encouraging.

 

Postoperative ileus

Postoperative ileus is a frequent complication of cancer surgery. Randomized clinical studies (low to moderate quality of evidence) indicate that acupuncture may fasten the recovery of bowel function by activating the parasympathetic efferent pathways, reducing the intestinal inflammation, and stimulating the gut innate pacemakers.

 

Stress, anxiety, depression

Cancer diagnosis, in addition to the tumor itself, can be a source of severe depression and additional stress. The relationship here is reciprocal. Tumors, therapy, surgery – these factors increase susceptibility to depression. On the other hand, psychological problems like depression and anxiety adversely affect the survival rate of cancer patients. Studies show that acupuncture may be as effective as medication for cancer-related depression and anxiety. Most likely, acupuncture works by modulating the HPA axis, raising the level of serotonin, as well as regulating glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor production.

 

Weight loss

Many cancer patients suffer from weight loss related to therapy and the progression of disease. Acupuncture can improve appetite and slow weight loss. Although the exact mechanisms of acupuncture’s anabolic action remain unknown (again!), acupuncture can improve appetite by decreasing cortisol levels, reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines, and/or increasing the secretion of bile.

 

What to Expect

A typical course of acupuncture involves weekly treatments for six to eight weeks. Some conditions may require ongoing “maintenance” treatment. It’s advisable to have a couple of sessions first to see if acupuncture is right for you.

 

Safety

Acupuncture does not interfere with cancer therapy and is safe (no increased bleeding or infection) even in patients with temporary neutropenia and/or thrombocytopenia during active oncological treatment.

 

The Bottom Line

Acupuncture is a beneficial complementary therapy to help reduce cancer-related symptoms, improve mood, and enhance patients' overall quality of life. To try acupuncture without making any long-term commitments, schedule a FREE session at Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine in downtown St. Pete.

References

Hershman, D. L., Unger, J. M., Greenlee, H., Capodice, J. L., Lew, D. L., Darke, A. K., Kengla, A. T., Melnik, M. K., Jorgensen, C. W., Kreisle, W. H., Minasian, L. M., Fisch, M. J., Henry, N. L., & Crew, K. D. (2018). Effect of Acupuncture vs Sham Acupuncture or Waitlist Control on Joint Pain Related to Aromatase Inhibitors Among Women With Early-Stage Breast Cancer: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA, 320(2), 167–176. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.8907

 

Höxtermann, M. D., Haller, H., Aboudamaah, S., Bachemir, A., Dobos, G., Cramer, H., & Voiss, P. (2022). Safety of acupuncture in oncology: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Cancer, 128(11), 2159–2173. https://doi.org/10.1002/cncr.34165

 

Jang, A., Brown, C., Lamoury, G., Morgia, M., Boyle, F., Marr, I., Clarke, S., Back, M., & Oh, B. (2020). The Effects of Acupuncture on Cancer-Related Fatigue: Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Integrative cancer therapies, 19, 1534735420949679. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534735420949679

 

Lau, C., Wu, X., Chung, V., Liu, X., Hui, E. P., Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Wong, S., Lau, A., Sit, R., Ziea, E., Ng, B., & Wu, J. (2016). Acupuncture and Related Therapies for Symptom Management in Palliative Cancer Care: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Medicine, 95(9), e2901. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000002901

 

Lu, W., Giobbie-Hurder, A., Freedman, R. A., Shin, I. H., Lin, N. U., Partridge, A. H., Rosenthal, D. S., & Ligibel, J. A. (2020). Acupuncture for Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Trial. The oncologist, 25(4), 310–318. https://doi.org/10.1634/theoncologist.2019-0489

 

Yoon, S. L., Grundmann, O., Williams, J. J., & Carriere, G. (2015). Novel intervention with acupuncture for anorexia and cachexia in patients with gastrointestinal tract cancers: a feasibility study. Oncology nursing forum, 42(2), E102–E109. https://doi.org/10.1188/15.ONF.E102-E109

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Dr. Elias Lu, DTCM is an acupuncture physician with Point of Cure Acupuncture and Electromedicine. In practice for over 25 years, he integrates traditional Chinese medicine with modern functional therapies to help people with chronic pain, trauma, neurodegenerative disorders, anxiety, depression, and many other life's challenges.

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