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Question: Can acupuncture help treat my cancer?

Acupuncture has been used to treat many different illnesses and ailments for over 4,000 years in China. It is a major component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been gaining increasing interest here in the United States over the past four decades. It especially has become much more popular in the last decade when the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of acupuncture needles for general medicinal use in November 1997 after the National Institutes of Health consensus panel recognized the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating adult post-chemotherapy treatment-induced vomiting and nausea.

Acupuncture entails using small disposable stainless steel needles that are just slightly thinner than one human hair. These needles are inserted into the skin at various points on the body known as acupoints. There are more than 2,000 acupoints on the human body and each of these points have been shown to have specific functions for different conditions.

Acupuncture is based on the theory that the body’s vital energy (Qi, pronounced “Chi”) flows along certain pathways (meridians) throughout our body. The Qi flows in opposite forces (yin and yang) in order to maintain a healthy balanced state. TCM believes that when one is sick that this vital energy flow is out of balance because of certain blocks or stagnation in part of the meridian. The acupoints are the points on the body that each meridian comes closest to the surface of the body and so by placing a needle at a specific acupoint this opens the meridian in attempting to restore balance to the body Qi, affecting not only the illness but promoting positive spiritual, emotional and mental wellness as well.

Clinical studies have shown that some cancer patients treated with acupuncture are far more likely to either discontinue or at least lower the dose of pain medications while receiving their cancer treatments than those patients not receiving acupuncture. The strongest evidence on the usefulness of acupuncture in cancer treatment is that of reproducible studies showing acupuncture being able to significantly reduce the severity of nausea and vomiting often induced by treatment.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH actively funds and helps to facilitate ongoing research and evaluation to better appropriate the use of complementary medicine such as acupuncture. Their website at http://nccam.nih.gov offers free information regarding studies including journal articles and reference material.

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There are quite a few reputable acupuncturists in our area. However, it should be strongly emphasized that acupuncture not be considered a cure for the cancer itself. Acupuncture should never be replaced with conventional standard therapy, but clearly acupuncture can safely be used as additional-complementary therapy in the many side effects of the cancer itself and our current Western therapies.

Contact Marian Cancer Care at 219-4673 if you are interested in scheduling an appointment for acupuncture.

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Have a question for "Your Cancer Answers," a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program? Email it to mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org.

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