More than 39 percent of the population will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life, so chances are, someone you know has had cancer. A 2019 study in JAMA Oncology found that acupuncture was significantly associated with lower pain levels for cancer patients. It seems that recently Eastern medicine, such as acupuncture, is integrating with Western medicine. The ongoing opioid crisis makes it more challenging to address cancer pain management, making acupuncture an alternative for pain.
One of the common side effects of chemotherapy is neuropathy, where nerve damage causes tingling, numbness and other sensations that can be extremely uncomfortable. This pain is often not treated or can’t be treated with pain medication, but acupuncture proves to be a great alternative. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine help open the body up and heal by promoting the flow of Qi (our vital energy). Acupuncture helps to bring circulation and blood flow to certain areas, helping the body to heal itself.
Acupuncture minimizes the common side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including neuropathy, nausea, loss of appetite and insomnia.
As a practitioner, I hear over and over that cancer patients are apprehensive about taking another medication for the side effects of another medication. But acupuncture is a noninvasive way to treat these side effects. I already mentioned that acupuncture helps with neuropathy because it stimulates blood flow to the damaged nerves. With nausea and loss of appetite, acupuncturists can open up channels that lead to the stomach meridian to help the body work more efficiently and improve the flow of energy to that area.
When someone has insomnia, it’s a sign that the brain is not shutting off. Acupuncture tells the neurotransmitters in the brain to calm down and helps to reprogram your body’s own circadian rhythm. When we are working on patients with insomnia, most of the time we choose to work on the heart meridians, because the heart calms the mind, and in traditional Chinese medicine we believe it is connected to the mind and spirit.
Often, schedules are packed with doctor’s appointments, but a visit to the acupuncturist is one to look forward to. I wanted my office to feel like home, so I purposely designed my practice to be that way, touching on the five elements of Chinese Medicine: wood, water, fire, earth, and metal and making it a tranquil, medical spa-like atmosphere. Doctors often look at their patients like a number, rushing to get them in and out of the door, but during an acupuncture appointment at our practice, we make a point to spend the time to get to know our patients and help to talk them through the emotions they may be going through during their cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The theory is that acupuncture is compared to going for a run—increasing circulation, draining the lymph nodes, and releasing toxins. Whenever you get acupuncture, it releases neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin and epinephrine, which helps boost energy levels and improve mood. At the practice we also use acupuncture to help treat allergies, as it goes back to my earlier point about opening the flow of Qi.
With the treatments and appointments that many cancer patients are already going to, they can often be afraid and apprehensive to try acupuncture while in treatment. But in fact, this is the best time to go. We often hear from our cancer patients that they felt overwhelmed with adding another appointment, but after coming to acupuncture they felt more relaxed, had less pain, and felt calmer after undergoing regular acupuncture treatments. Often the patients that were skeptical of acupuncture would take a break and very often when stopping acupuncture regularly, it caused their pain to return.
Acupuncture is just one form of alternative therapy, but there are others that could benefit those with cancer.
Acupuncture is only one pillar of Chinese Medicine, but other modalities include manual therapy, Chinese herbal medicine, and meditation practices like Qi gong. A recent meta-analysis in patients with cancer and insomnia showed that yoga, meditation, hypnosis, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and qi gong have a moderate effect on the improvement of sleep quality for up to three months. At my practice, we also do sound healing classes, which has been a great way to start meditation and can help reduce stress. This practice uses vibrations (vocal or instrumental-like gongs, Tibetan singing bowls and tuning forks) in order to relax your mind and body.
Elizabeth Martin is a board-certified licensed acupuncturist. She is the owner of Hands On Acupuncture and Massage Therapy PC on Long Island. Visit www.handsonacupuncture.com to learn more.