Acupuncture is an alternative treatment that can help improve some of the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment. Research shows that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting and may relieve fatigue associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
But before you decide whether acupuncture may be an effective treatment for reducing your side effects, it helps to educate yourself more about this form of complementary medicine and what it can do for you.
Basis of Acupuncture
According to traditional Chinese medicine, disease disrupts the qi, or flow of energy, that normally travels throughout the body. The view of this ancient practice also considers the anxiety, fear, and other emotional distress associated with a cancer diagnosis as disruptive to the smooth flow of qi.
The insertion of acupuncture needles at particular pressure points releases blocked qi so that energy can flow freely again.
Western medicine takes a more scientific approach, suggesting that acupuncture stimulates nerves, sending signals to and from the spinal cord and brain, triggering the pituitary gland to release more endorphins. Acupuncture may also work by decreasing pro-inflammatory markers in the body, boosting an immune system weakened by chemotherapy drugs.
Information a Practitioner Needs
An acupuncture practitioner will ask you to describe the symptoms you experience following chemotherapy or radiation treatment. You also need to list all medications you currently take, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and herbal medicines.
Although the practitioner will explain how the procedure works, it's important to provide adequate information about your overall health and lifestyle habits. That way, he or she can create a treatment plan appropriate for your symptoms.
Acupuncture Treatment Sessions
At the start of acupuncture treatment, the practitioner inserts thin stainless steel needles just beneath the top layer of your skin at different acupressure points on your body.
If you seek acupuncture to control chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, a practitioner may place the needles on the inside of your wrist. Discomfort associated with acupuncture is minimal, but you may feel a mild pricking sensation or tingling at first.
The length of the session and frequency of repeat sessions vary depending on the severity of your symptoms and how well you respond to treatment. If acupuncture helps alleviate the side effects of cancer treatment, you can continue to schedule sessions for as long as you benefit from them.
Possible Side Effects of Acupuncture
Like conventional medical treatments, acupuncture poses certain risks. Common side effects include bruising, a little bleeding, and soreness at the needle sites. Although these side effects generally are minor and short-lived, you should not receive acupuncture therapy if you have a hereditary bleeding disorder or take blood thinners your doctor prescribes to prevent blood clots.
While infections from a break in the skin are rare with the use of sterile needles, low white blood cell counts (leukopenia) following cancer treatment put you at greater risk of infection. However, the acupuncture treatment itself minimizes the risk by boosting immunity and increasing the production of white blood cells, which help your body's immune system fight bacterial infections.
Acupuncture for Lymphedema After Cancer Treatment
When lymph nodes are surgically removed or damaged by radiation treatment, you are at increased risk of lymphedema-a condition that prevents the lymphatic system from draining properly. Fluid accumulates and causes tissue swelling, usually in the arms or legs.
Lymphedema is a side effect that can occur following treatment for melanoma and breast, prostate, renal, and bladder cancers.
However, early clinical trials indicate that acupuncture may be safe and effective for treating upper-limb lymphedema. One study conducted at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center suggests that acupuncture may reduce swelling of the upper arm that sometimes occurs following breast cancer treatment.
If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture can help alleviate these and other side effects of cancer treatment, contact Palmetto Acupuncture and Holistic Health Clinic. A licensed acupuncturist can answer your questions regarding acupuncture therapy and its benefits.