Being Well

Acupuncture for Cancer Patients: What You Need to Know

Using acupuncture for cancer can provide relief of symptoms including pain, fatigue and nausea. If you're looking for a respite during treatment, it may be the answer you seek.

When you’re going through cancer treatment, alternative medicine can help alleviate side effects caused by traditional medicine or the disease itself. Acupuncture for cancer focuses on offering relief for the disease or treatment, as well as preventing complications in the first place. If you’re looking for a new way to handle concerns alongside your treatment, this may be an option for you.

What Is Acupuncture?

According to the Mayo Clinic, acupuncture is a medical technique that involves inserting thin needles into strategic points in your body. These needles can be placed in a variety of places, often in clusters. Then you’re instructed to relax for a designated time frame while the needles remain in your body. The location of where the needles are placed varies upon what concerns or issues you want to relieve.

What Can Acupuncture Be Used For?

As the National Cancer Institute lays out, there has been an array of clinical trials done on this topic showing that acupuncture could help make nausea, depression and sleep problems more bearable, though it’s probably more effective in preventing vomiting instead of reducing it.

A comprehensive review published in the Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America notes that acupuncture has been used effectively to treat pain, nausea, fatigue, hot flashes and even depression in cancer patients. Though acupuncture for cancer therapies varies from patient to patient, based on the side effects or treatment complications. For example, a study published in Current Oncology notes that acupuncture may help lung cancer patients feel better both mentally and physically.

And according to a report from Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, it may make bone pain, the most common pain associated with cancer, at least seem more tolerable. While each person with cancer has symptoms or side effects unique to him or her, there’s a chance acupuncture can be used to bring a bit of relief to some of your symptoms during this uncomfortable and trying time.

Is It Safe?

Alternative medicine techniques, like acupuncture, sometimes get a bad rap. While some assume these complementary techniques aren’t regulated or monitored, acupuncture practitioners are actually well-educated and go through a certification process to practice. Practitioners in America are required to complete 2,000 to 3,000 hours of education and training from an accredited school or program. Before seeing their own patients, practitioners must also pass a board exam to gain certification from the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. You may be surprised to learn that many medical doctors are also certified to give acupuncture treatments to patients, too. These doctors choose to attend up to 300 hours of additional training to become certified in acupuncture techniques.

You may be wary of acupuncture due to one important component of the treatment: needles. If you’re living with cancer, needles consistently poke and prod you during traditional treatment, and having more needles in your body may seem awful. Acupuncture needles, however, are often pain-free from entry to the end of treatment. If you’re concerned about the sterilization of acupuncture needles and your risk of infection, breathe easier. The Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine offers practitioners courses on safety and blood-borne diseases. Besides, the California State Oriental Medical Association states that the field of acupuncture turned towards using disposable, one-time use needles that are labeled as such by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Acupuncture is certainly a viable option if you’re living with cancer and want a respite from unpleasant symptoms. If this therapy interests you, be sure to speak with your oncologist for a referral to an acupuncture practitioner who’s experienced in working with cancer patients.

If you're looking for new ways to treat and deal with cancer, take a look at the clinical trials happening at your cancer center.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress