Acupuncture Eases Side Effects of Breast Cancer Treatment

by Dody Chang, L.Ac.

While the survival rate for breast cancer has improved significantly due to advancements in treatment, the side effects of these treatments can be taxing to the body and spirit. Complementary therapies such as acupuncture can help to alleviate pain, fatigue, anxiety, nausea, and dry mouth that accompany these life-saving therapies.

Acupuncture, which refers to the use of thin filaments on the surface of the body to influence vital energy called “qi,” has been used in Asian medicine for thousands of years. According to Asian medicinal theory, energy flows through the body along channel pathways called “meridians.” Needling points along the meridian can stimulate a particular tissue, organ, or organ system, helping to unblock imbalances that cause illness.

Acupuncture is an effective adjunctive therapy to reduce the toxicity and side effects of conventional cancer therapy. When the body can maintain normal blood levels, and gastrointestinal functions are protected from cytotoxic agents, a patient can complete her chemotherapy and radiation without disruption to the treatment schedule.

Acupuncture counters the side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy by harmonizing the stomach and digestion, enhancing the immune system, decreasing swelling and pain, accelerating healing (post-surgically) and boosting energy.

According to research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, there is clear evidence that acupuncture is effective for both chemotherapy-induced and post-operative nausea and vomiting, benefiting 60-70% of patients. Another study conducted at Duke University Medical Center found acupuncture to work better than Zofran (chemical name: ondansetron) to reduce nausea and vomiting after breast surgery. A report in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology concluded that acupuncture is equally effective at reducing hot flashes, night sweats, and excessive sweating associated with cancer treatment as conventional drug therapy typically prescribed to treat such symptoms in breast cancer patients.

More importantly, acupuncture treats the entire mind-body framework, addressing a patient’s underlying physical and mental-emotional presentation during cancer therapy. The emotional and mental strength gained through acupuncture enables the patient to maintain a positive outlook during and after treatment. It can greatly increase the quality of life and natural healing response in a person.

Each acupuncture session is customized to treat the patient’s particular symptoms. Some patients receive immediate relief while others may require a course of acupuncture sessions to maximize benefits. Research shows that combining complementary therapies such as acupuncture with conventional treatment leads to better treatment results with fewer hemoglobin changes, higher white blood cell counts and lower recurrence.