This treatment modality is thought to manage symptoms of cancer, side effects from conventional therapies and/or control pain. Acupuncture should be used with, not in place of, standard cancer therapy.
What does acupuncture involve?
Acupuncture is the insertion of hair-thin, stainless steel needles into the skin at specific locations, called channels or acupoints, to affect the flow of Qi (energy) in the body. According to traditional Chinese medicine, each channel is believed to connect with a specific organ system of the body. The needles are placed into the skin just deep enough to prevent them from falling out and are kept in place for less than one-half hour. Twirling the needles or applying a small amount of electrical power is thought to enhance the result. (For more information, please see traditional Chinese medicine).
How is acupuncture thought to manage specific symptoms of cancer, side effects of conventional therapies and/or control pain?
Acupuncture is used primarily to relieve pain and symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. There are two different explanations of how acupuncture works. The conventional medicine explanation is that insertion of needles stimulates the body's nervous system to release chemicals that change the feeling of pain and influence the body's internal regulating system, although scientific research to support this idea is limited. The Chinese medicine explanation is that the insertion of needles restores of the regular flow of Qi, stimulating the body's natural healing abilities.
What has been proven about the benefit of acupuncture?
Acupuncture may be useful in treating symptoms of disease and side effects of cancer treatment and for inducing relaxation. Two studies have reported the relief of radiotherapy-induced edema and reduced pain, and another study has reported an improvement in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in 96% of patients studied. However relief from nausea and vomiting only lasted a short while. There is no scientific proof that acupuncture can cure or treat cancer, but it does appear to be effective for controlling pain.
What is the potential risk or harm of acupuncture?
There are no inherent side effects associated with acupuncture. However, careless practitioners can be hazardous, especially if improperly sterilized needles are used. Slight bruising may occur at the site of needle insertion, and therefore, patients at risk of easy bruising or excessive bleeding should avoid acupuncture.
How much does acupuncture cost?
Costs will vary depending on the practitioner and whether insurance will cover acupuncture. Generally, treatment may take place over a few days or several weeks. The cost per treatment typically ranges between $30 and $100, but it may be appreciably more. Physician acupuncturists may charge more than nonphysician practitioners.
For additional information:
American Association of Oriental Medicine
433 Front Street
Catasauqua, PA 18032
Telephone: (888) 500-7999
Web site: www.aaaomonline.org
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance
14637 Starr Road S.E.
Olalla, WA 98359
Telephone: (253) 851-6896
Web site: www.acuall.org
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinhouse
P.O. Box 7923
Gaithersburg, MD 20898
Telephone: (888) 644-6226
Web site: nccam.nih.gov
Acupuncture: How it Works, How it Cures. Peter Firebrace and Sandra Hill. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing Inc., 1994
Note: Information about therapies is intended to help you make informed choices, not to endorse any particular therapy. The information is courtesy of "Integrating Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Cancer Patients," a handbook written as an independent study project by Heather Morein. For more information, see the full text of the handbook (PDF), including all references and appendices.