Acupuncture: How It Helps With Cancer Treatments
While acupuncture has been around for millennia, the form of acupuncture practiced today is mainly based on a standardized system which evolved in China around 50 years ago.
How Acupuncture Works – the Simple Explanation
Acupuncture treatment involves the stimulation of defined points on the body using tiny, ultra-thin needles (or sometimes electricity). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (“TCM”), the surface of the human body and its internal organs are thought to be connected by meridians through which “qi” (pronounced “chee”), or energy, flows.
In TCM, when the flow of qi is blocked, it is thought that pain and disease soon follow. Acupuncture is a complex subject but primarily acupuncture works by inserting the special ultra-thin needles into the specific points on the surface of the body (“acupoints”) along the meridians where qi is blocked, thus restoring the flow of qi.
Acupuncture Studies Show Its Effectiveness for Breast Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Acupuncture has been one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine. Especially exciting is some of the data coming in about how it can help with cancer treatments. For example, acupuncture has been shown to be effective in controlling chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. In fact, in one study acupuncture was more effective than anti-emetic drugs in controlling nausea.
In another study, it was demonstrated that acupuncture was as effective as prescription drugs in controlling the hot flashes caused by anti-estrogen drugs and it also helped increase libido in these women.
Some breast cancer survivors are treated with drugs known as aromatase inhibitors to help prevent recurrence, but a common side effect of these drugs is joint pain and stiffness. One study found that acupuncture is quite effective in reducing these side effects, thereby allowing the drug regimen to be continued.
There are also reports showing acupuncture reduced the nerve pain associated with neuropathy, it reduced swelling and discomfort caused by lymphedema, and it effectively assisted patients who complained of dry mouth and muscle weakness.
Does It Hurt?
I often get asked if acupuncture hurts. I have to say (for the most part) NO, especially not when the needles are inserted. You can feel it, of course, but it’s not uncomfortable. Once in awhile, one of the acupoints might be sore, especially if qi is particularly blocked, and it might ache for a few moments when the needle is first inserted, but that goes away.
I went to a TCM doctor during the entire 6 months of my chemotherapy treatment – she gave me herbs that helped my immune system stay strong, and I often got acupuncture to help with energy levels. Having a treatment is ultra-relaxing, you’re generally laying in a comfortable position for about 45 minutes and falling asleep is quite common. It’s a nice experience. I highly recommend acupuncture and TCM!
Acupuncture treatments are generally affordable and are covered by some health insurance policies.
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