For many years, acupuncture has been accepted as an effective part of symptom control for people with cancer. It can help control your pain and relieve symptoms of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Acupuncture has been shown to improve the dry mouth sensation (xerostomia) that can be caused by radiotherapy and it can also help with neuropathy, the pain and numbness of the limbs that can be caused by nerve damage during cancer treatment.
Acupuncture has also been shown to relieve other symptoms including fatigue, hot flushes, anxiety, depression, constipation and diarrhoea. You can also use acupuncture to help with pain from scarring and surgery, and to soften tissue.
Research is continuing into the use of acupuncture to treat stress and insomnia, and to reduce arm circumference in people living with lymphoedema.
Acupuncture has its roots in traditional Chinese medicine and is founded on the belief that energy flows through your body along pathways called ‘meridians’. When that flow is blocked or obstructed, your health and wellbeing are affected. In acupuncture, fine, sterile needles are inserted into your skin to unblock the obstructed pathways and restore energy flow, bringing your mind and body back into balance.
In western medicine, acupuncture is explained a little differently.
Clinical research indicates that stimulating acupuncture points on the body with needles and other forms of acupressure causes nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain, to respond physically. Depending on which acupuncture points are stimulated, these physical responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals such as endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers), all of which can affect the way the body functions. These physical responses can have a range of positive effects on the body, from improving blood pressure and body temperature to boosting immune system activity.
What will happen to me in an acupuncture session?
At your first appointment, your LivingRoom acupuncturist will look at your medical history from a Western medical point of view. Then your practitioner will consider your health from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective which may include looking at your tongue as a diagnostic tool. These investigations help your practitioner to work out what sort of treatment will suit you best.
Your acupuncturist will insert hair-thin needles into sites around your body. Most treatments involve between four and twelve needles, positioned at sites in your arms and legs. Sometimes treatments require needles on the scalp, in the abdomen or in the ear.
As the needles are inserted you may feel a very slight pinprick or tingle followed by a warm, glowing sensation or a dull ache at the site. As the sensation fades it may be replaced by a comfortable feeling of heaviness in the body part. Often people become deeply relaxed, and some fall asleep.
In most cases the needles will stay in place for around 20 minutes. Sometimes needles are attached to an electroacupuncture* machine that intensifies the treatment and may produce a tapping sensation through the needles. In some cases a laser acupuncture* machine may be used. A heat lamp or moxibustion* may be used on the area being treated to enhance the experience. Your acupuncturist might advise an acupressure* routine to do at home.
*Electroacupuncture: A procedure in which pulses of weak electrical current are sent through acupuncture needles into acupoints in the skin.
*Laser acupuncture : The use of a weak laser beam instead of an acupuncture needle to stimulate an acupoint.
*Acupressure : A type of massage therapy in which the fingers are used to press on an acupoint. In cancer patients, acupressure has been used to control symptoms such as pain or nausea and vomiting.
*Moxibustion : A type of heat therapy in which a herb is burned above the body to warm a meridian at an acupoint and increase the flow of blood and qi. The herb may be placed directly on the skin, held close to the skin for several minutes, or placed on the tip of an acupuncture needle. Heat lamps may also be used to warm the acupoints.
Are there any risks?
Acupuncture is generally very safe. Some people experience some discomfort and some have mild bruising at the site of the needle, but serious side effects are rare and have been reported in less than one in 10,000 treatments. Only sterile, single-use, disposable needles are used at Lifehouse. Your acupuncturist is registered with the Australian Health Professional Regulation Agency.
Have any preclinical (laboratory or animal) studies been conducted using acupuncture?
Findings from recent laboratory and animal studies suggest that acupuncture can reduce chemotherapy-induced vomiting and may strengthen the immune system during treatment. Animal studies also support the use of electroacupuncture to relieve cancer pain. You can find a summary of animal studies that have been conducted on acupuncture, including those studying acupuncture as a treatment for cancer, via the US National Cancer Institute website.
Have any clinical trials (research studies with people) of acupuncture been conducted?
Most clinical trials involving acupuncture and cancer patients have studied the effects of acupuncture on cancer symptoms and side effects caused by cancer treatment. Findings from these research trials indicate that, for many patients, acupuncture can relieve symptoms and/or prevent them from worsening.
Clinical trials of the effects of acupuncture on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, have produced the most convincing findings. There are also a number of favourable clinical acupuncture studies reported for improving immune function, pain, fatigue, hot flashes, dry mouth and other treatment-related side effects. Some preliminary favourable research is available for neuropathy and lymphoedema. An excellent summary of these clinical studies can be found at the National Cancer Institute website.
There are many rigorous trials currently underway in the US. A list of these can be found by searching the National Cancer Institute website.
Effect of acupuncture on cancer treatment-related side effects
Acupuncture for pain
Some evidence from clinical studies suggests that acupuncture can reduce pain experienced by cancer patients, however these studies have been limited in size as well as other design parameters which weakens their findings. This continues to be an area of interest for researchers studying acupuncture as a supportive treatment for cancer patients.
Postmenopausal women with hormone-dependent breast cancer may be treated with a type of hormone therapy called aromatase inhibitors. This therapy can sometimes cause joint and muscle pain in patients. The results from one clinical study indicate that acupuncture can help relieve joint pain and stiffness in patients being treated with aromatase inhibitors.
Acupuncture for nausea and vomiting caused by cancer therapies
Strong evidence has emerged from several studies supporting acupuncture as an effective relief method for nausea and vomiting caused by cancer-related treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. The trials suggest that acupuncture is more effective at preventing vomiting than reducing nausea.
In some trials, acupuncture treatment was combined with medicine for the best effect, however in others acupuncture treatment resulted in patients needing less medication and conventional pain relief than those relying on these methods alone to treat the symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
Acupuncture and hot flashes in patients treated for cancer
Some studies indicate that acupuncture may provide relief for patients experiencing hot flashes as a result of hormone therapy that is used to treat some types of breast and prostate cancers.
Acupuncture and fatigue
Results from randomised clinical studies suggest that acupuncture can help patients manage cancer-related fatigue.
Acupuncture and xerostomia (dry mouth)
Clinical trials indicate that acupuncture is better than standard care at preventing xerostomia (dry mouth) in patients undergoing radiotherapy. One trial comparing patients treated with acupuncture and those treated with conventional prevention methods found that patients in the acupuncture group had fewer symptoms and increased saliva flow than those in the conventional treatment group.
A study into acupuncture and xerostomia in the long-term found that patients receiving ongoing acupuncture had better outcomes after six months and again at three years than those who ceased treatment.
Who is my acupuncturist?
Dr Suzanne Grant (PhD) is the LivingRoom’s acupuncture practitioner. She says “If you can use acupuncture to provide some relief from the side effects of treatment or the symptoms of cancer, you may be able to reduce some medications, prevent treatment delays or simply feel better.”
Suzanne earned both her undergraduate (BAppSc in Traditional Chinese Medicine) and doctoral (PhD in Chinese Medicine) degrees from the University of Western Sydney. She has spent time studying Chinese Medicine in Nanjing and Beijing, China. Suzanne has been in practice for over ten years. Suzanne is also a Post-Doctoral Fellow and lecturer at University of Western Sydney (UWS). She has published research in peer-reviewed journals in Chinese medicine and cancer. She is registered with AHPRA, a member of the Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association, the Society of Integrative Oncology and the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia.
Suzanne is available to treat not only Lifehouse patients and their family and carers but anyone from the general public, particularly with a cancer diagnosis. If you are interested, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02 8514 0038 to make an appointment.
How much does it cost?
Long Consultation (60 mins) $90
Long Appointment (60 mins) $60
Follow up (40 mins) $60
Follow Up Concession (40min) $50
Patients with private insurance can use HICAPS card to claim their rebate. Package prices and concession prices are available for all LivingRoom services.
Call 02 8514 0038 or email email@example.com
Did you know?
- Acupuncture has been shown to reduce the intensity and frequency of nausea and vomiting in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.
- Acupuncture has been shown to help with dry mouth from radiotherapy, helping you to swallow, eat and drink.
- Acupuncture can decrease the frequency and intensity of hot flashes for breast cancer patients.
- If you’re going too often or not often enough, acupuncture and massage can help regulate bowel changes.