Acupuncture is not used to treat cancer itself. Instead, acupuncture is a therapy that may lessen the side effects of cancer treatment and reduce a patient’s stress, aiding the body’s natural ability to recover. Cancer survivors may have side effects from their treatments for months or years afterward. Acupuncture can help with those side effects as well.
Acupuncture is generally very safe, however, there are more risks when working with cancer patients. Most acupuncture schools do not provide training specific to the use of acupuncture for oncology patients. As a practitioner, I am committed to providing the highest quality care for my patients. For this reason, I have completed two additional training programs on acupuncture for cancer patients through the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center’s Integrative Medicine program. I have also trained with acupuncturists from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical Center, where many of the protocols I use in my practice were developed. Also, I am a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology, a professional organization of oncologists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, nutritionists, acupuncturists, and many other complementary therapy practitioners.
How does acupuncture work for cancer patients and cancer survivors?
Cancer patients use acupuncture for a variety of symptoms, including pain control, to relieve nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, xerostomia, neuropathy, anxiety, depression, and sleeping problems. The mechanisms of acupuncture are not fully understood, and research is ongoing. Acupuncture may work by causing physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain, affecting blood pressure and body temperature. Laboratory and animal studies of acupuncture during cancer treatment suggest that acupuncture may also help strengthen the immune system during chemotherapy.
My favorite self-care resources
As I mentioned above, I am a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. SIO’s mission is to advance evidence-based, comprehensive, integrative healthcare to improve the lives of people affected by cancer. SIO has published three different Clinical Practice Guidelines, which are posted on the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website.
- Click here to access the 2014 SIO Guidelines, Clinical Practice Guidelines on the Use of Integrative Therapies as Supportive Care in Patients Treated for Breast Cancers Supportive Care in Patients Treated for Breast Cancer.
- Click here to access the 2013 SIO Guidelines, Complementary therapies and integrative medicine in lung cancer: Diagnosis and management of lung cancer.
- Click here to access the 2009 SIO Guidelines, Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines for Integrative Oncology: Complementary Therapies and Botanicals.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center is a national leader in integrative oncology, thanks in large part to the work of Dr. Barry Cassileth. Dr. Cassileth has pioneered an evidence-based approach to complementary therapies like acupuncture, and her book, The Complete Guide to Complementary Therapies in Cancer Care, provides an excellent overview of the options available to cancer patients.
MSKCC has excellent patient resources about a variety of topics, including screenings, nutritional and herbal supplements, complementary care, and more. Learn more at “More Science, Less Fear.”