Acupuncture has become well-known to be a helpful modality in decreasing, and sometimes even depleting all together the side effects from cancer and chemotherapy. Although the most common cancer side effect that we hear about is nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, there are a multitude of other side effects from cancer and its treatments that are equally as hindering in one’s day to day life.
Cancer Side Effects Basics
Usually patients that come in with these issues already know more than their fair share as to what is happening to them and why. However, they also may be seeing so many doctors that all of these issues become a blur. Chemotherapy is the current treatment of choice for most of those that suffer from cancer. It is a treatment that kills fast-growing cells which is what cancer cells are. Although it does do the job of killing fast-growing cancer cells, the problem is that it also can affect the healthy fast-growing cells which in-turn causes problematic side effects.
Common Chemotherapy Side Effects:
- Hair loss
- Nausea & Vomiting
- Appetite Changes
- Mood Changes
- Concentration Issues
- Weight Changes
- Dry Mouth
- Easily Bruised
- Hot Flashes
In western medicine, these side effects are usually managed with dietary changes, simple exercises, and over the counter medications that won’t interact with their various cancer prescription medications. These side effects can occur at any time before, during, or after treatment, and can affect each person very differently. Luckily, treating each person individually is exactly what we do best as acupuncture providers treating with eastern medicine.
Acupuncture & Cancer Side Effects
Acupuncture works as a complementary treatment to conventional cancer treatments to strengthen and support the well-being and quality of life of our patients. It’s estimated that 75% of hospitalized cancer patients experience cancer-related pain, and as much as two thirds with metastatic cancer suffer cancer-related pain. In addition to pain, acupuncture is useful in relieving chemotherapy and radiation side effects such as those listed above. Acupuncture providers and most western medicine oncologists agree that a multidisciplinary treatment approach for cancer patients results in a better chance of remission or a better quality of life if the patient does not reach remission.
The main focus with cancer patient treatment is to support Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. Supporting Blood is extremely important because it carries oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, and aids in keeping them healthy. Additionally, it also filters out Co2, toxins, and waste products to support Qi. As we know, Qi supports the immune system, nervous system, and endocrine system, all of which are often compromised during radiation or chemotherapy treatment. Yin and Yang are also affected by cancer treatments, Yin being the most effected with the loss of moisture and fluid.
Acupuncture for Cancer Treatment Side Effects:
- Nausea & Vomiting – acupuncture increases ACTH (adrenocorticotropic) hormones and beta-endorphins which inhibits the nausea and vomiting. It also lowers acid secretion which helps to decrease chances of vomiting as well. According to the 2019 study, Effect of Acupuncture in Different Time on Nausea & Vomiting Induced by Chemotherapy of Lung Cancer, acupuncture proved to greatly improve the effect of nausea and vomiting done before chemotherapy.
- Pain – according to the 2019 study, Clinical Evidence for Association of Acupuncture and Acupressure with Improved Cancer Pain, acupuncture and/or acupressure significantly reduced cancer pain and reduced the need for pain medications.
- Peripheral Neuropathy from Chemotherapy – according to a 2020 study, Effect of Acupuncture vs. Sham Procedure on Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy Symptoms, acupuncture significantly improved CIPN symptoms more than both sham acupuncture and usual care.
- Fatigue – according to a study done in 2018, Effects of Acupuncture on Cancer-Related Fatigue: A meta-analysis, and its update performed in 2020, acupuncture had a noteworthy effect on cancer-related fatigue in cancer patients “regardless of concurrent anti-cancer treatment, particularly among breast cancer patients”. It was also noted that the results of acupuncture were far better when compared with sham and usual care.
- Dry Mouth – acupuncture works for dry mouth by stimulating brain activity prompting saliva production, particularly with acupuncture point LI 2 located on the index finger above the knuckle on the side.
- Hot Flashes – treating this cancer side-effect, we must look at the relationship of Yin and Yang in the Kidneys, and how to best to nourish the Kidneys. We should additionally advise the patient to be sure to stay hydrated, and guide them in healthy eating habits. According to a study in 2019, Acupuncture for Hot Flashes in Cancer Patients, acupuncture, more specifically electroacupuncture, was shown to be more effective in breast cancer patients than other remedy’s such as gabapentin with fewer side effects.