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Why Acupuncture Is Important in the Treatment of Cancer

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As they continue to gain acceptance in the West, Chinese medicine and acupuncture are more and more being used along with western conventional medicine to address cancer and a variety of conditions. Acupuncture, specifically has gained a lot of attention for its use in chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and postsurgical and cancer pain. The research journal, Harefuah published an article by Dr. N. Samuels that stated:

The use of Orlando acupuncture in cancer patients has been suggested by the ACS (American Cancer Society) for the treatment of cancer and cancer treatment-related symptoms. This mode of treatment has been found to work successfully against limb edema, vasomotor symptoms, breathlessness, nausea, and pain.

Furthermore, Dr. Samuels says that acupuncture can combat carcinogens through its capacity to beef up immune function and alleviate stress. In fact, a number of cancer centers have started integrating acupuncture for symptoms associated with cancer such as pain and a lot of patients have experienced substantial results in the decrease of their symptoms.

It may be helpful to inform the reader what cancer is and the several types of western conventional therapies that is commonly utilized to address it prior to explaining how acupuncture can be incorporated effectively into the care of the patient.

What is cancer?

In North America, one of the top causes of death is cancer. This is a disease that occurs due to abnormal changes in the cells’ genetic make-up that make them multiply uncontrollably. These abnormal cells tend to spread locally and can then travel to other parts of the body via blood or lymphatic fluid circulation. Triggering the mutation of the cells that bring about cancer can be attributed to several factors. They include environmental, infectious and other agents that are connected to the development of cancer (such as hormonal therapy and other therapeutic carcinogens), extreme stress, inappropriate dietary intake, old age, immune dysfunction, and heredity.

Conventional modes of treatment

Cancer therapies that are commonly used include hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. While surgery physically removes the tumors, therapies such as chemotherapy are designed to slow down cell multiplication and growth. These treatments are sometimes effective and are essential tools to help a patient survive. Radiation therapy and surgery remove tumours that can prevent complications and the spread of cancer to other parts of the body (metastases). The downside of these treatments is that they are extremely toxic and harsh on the body that can make it very difficult for the body to recover. Chemotherapy uses a lot of drugs that not only destroy cancer cells but all healthy cells as well and can lead to mild or severe nausea. Because it weakens the bone marrow that impair the production of platelet cells, red blood cells, and white blood cells chemotherapies can cause dizziness and fatigue, and raise the risk of infection of the person as well as weaken the body’s ability to heal wounds. Moreover, chemotherapeutic agents can cause skin rashes and hair loss since they also kill the skin cells and the cells of hair follicles. Tamoxifen and other breast cancer drugs are hormonal drugs that have been proven to raise the likelihood of endometrial cancer and blood clotting (thrombosis).

Cyberknife and gamma knife radiotherapy and therapies that use focused radiation to a specific region of the body are occasionally suggested as an alternative to surgery. Besides these, newer chemotherapeutic agents that have fewer side effects and lesser toxicity are now being promoted. With all these advances in the fight against cancer, where then does Chinese medicine and acupuncture fit in?

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine or TCM is an ancient and comprehensive Chinese medical system that is made up several components: Qi Gong, Tai Chi, counseling, nutrition, Chinese massage therapy (Tuina), Chinese herbal medicine, moxibustion, cupping, dietary therapy, acupuncture, and more. TCM is based on more than two thousand five hundred years of experience. The earliest drawings of tumours are from the 1100 B.C. and have been written on “oracle bones” and turtle shells. Texts written in 200 B.C. give detailed descriptions of the cause and quality of tumors.

As with conventional western medicine, cancer according to TCM is attributed to one or a combination of factors such as the environment, lifestyle, and genetics. Cancer is a disharmony brought about by the build-up of internal or external factors that cause the normal functioning of the body to become abnormal, to produce a diseased state. In millennia-old documents, it was theorized that factors such as intense sadness and extreme cold could result in cancer and other unhealthy conditions. The TCM practitioner treats his patients by first taking a complete inventory of the patient and carefully considers the patient’s overall lifestyle, emotions, digestive functioning, diet, appetite, sleep, complexion, body temperature, energy level, and musculoskeletal abnormalities.

In the book, Comprehensive Cancer Care, the authors Curtis and Gordon stated that TCM adopts a holistic approach to cancer treatment:

TCM’s treatment of cancer follows the principle of fu sheng gu ben. Fu sheng, in Chinese means strengthening qi, the vital energy in the body that regulates healthy and normal development. Gu ben pertains to enhancing and beefing up the processes of repair and regeneration, that according to Chinese medicine lies in the kidney. Treatment traditionally involves strengthening the flow of qi and blood, clearing out toxins that may contribute to cancer, taking out unwanted build-up of tissue (tumors), and bringing back balance and self-regulation among the qi, shen, and jing. The processes through which this is done include counseling, tui na, qi gong, tai chi, nutritional and herbal treatments, and acupuncture.

Acupuncture for the different stages of cancer

Acupuncture can preserve and boost the normal functioning of the body for conditions where the cancer is detected early. Quite a number of studies have already been done about this although the tests were performed mainly on animals. Nevertheless, the results show the ability of acupuncture to improve the growth of healthy cells and reinforce the immune system. This can be very important in shielding the body from the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiation that kill both abnormal and normal cells. Acupuncture can also relieve emotional and physical tensions, as well as relax and deeply calm the body.

In instances where a tumor has developed, acupuncture can serve as a proper adjunct therapy to chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery. In a 1997 study, 250 patients who were treated with acupuncture after undergoing gynecological surgery for cancer, experienced a faster recovery time. A 2001 study headed by Aldridge showed that acupuncture treatment on 40 breast cancer patients led to a reduction of nausea and vomiting post-surgery and a significant reduction in postsurgical pain.

Acupuncture can be used as an adjunct to other types of palliative care to significantly relieve pain during the advanced stages of cancer. On certain occasions, patients can be allowed to substantially lower the dosage of painkillers which helps them avoid the adverse side effects that often come with these drugs.

How does acupuncture work?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine the body is made up of a complex web of energy channels called “meridians”. There are 12 primary meridians and eight secondary meridians that help bring about a balance of yin and yang. Yin is associated with nourishment of the body while Yang is associated with body function and activity. A meridian’s name is based on the specific internal organ through which it passes and encompasses. The external and internal aspects of the body are connected via these energy channels.

When there is free flow of hsue (blood) and qi (vital energy) in the meridians, the body experiences good health and can perform optimally. But if a meridian does not function properly, the flow of hsue and qi can become blocked, deficient (hypoactive), excessive (hyperactive), or even flow in the opposite direction. This usually affects the function of the organs that the meridian is associated with, which leads to an imbalance of yin and yang in the body that in turn disrupts the overall functioning of the body.

From the standpoint of TCM, acupuncture activates certain points on the body via the meridians wherein energy flows and collects and normalizes the overall flow of energy in order for the body to return to a state of health and balance.

From the viewpoint of Western medical science, the application of single use, sterile, and filiform needles into the skin’s subcutaneous layers can lead to significant changes on a number of the regulatory systems of the body. When properly performed, acupuncture produces neurophysiological effects that can improve immune function and circulation, alter both mood and pain perception, and lead to the production and release of pain-killing endorphins. The treatment specifically works to alleviate nausea via the release of chemicals that prevent gastric contractions, reduce acid secretions, and control the vomiting center in the brain.

According the book Cancer Pain: Assessment and Management published 2004 the needles are inserted in points on the body known as acupuncture points or acupoints. These are points believed to be easily influenced zones of lymphaticoneurovascular bundles in the subcutaneous tissue. Penetrations of neurovascular bundles via superficial fascia and peripheral endings of spinal and cranial nerves have been cited as morphological discoveries of acupoints.

Acupuncture treatment, what to expect

The sticking of needles into certain points of your body may sound unappealing. The fact is however, that the needles generate no pain or at worst minimal discomfort since they are just inserted below the layer of the skin. The patient may feel a heavy, dull heavy sensation once the needles are stuck. This may be accompanied by numbness or a slight tingling in the site of insertion that oftentimes wanes a few seconds after. The needles are left inserted for about 20 minutes. An overwhelming majority of people find this experience to be quite relaxing that it usually puts them to sleep in the midst of the treatment. After the session is over, the acupuncturist completes the treatment by also utilizing other techniques such as Chinese massage therapy or tuina. For cancer and other chronic conditions, regular treatments are to be expected. This involves treatment at least once or two times a week and the plan of treatment is based according to the specific condition of the patient.


Though it is a very serious disease cancer does not always leads to death. It is an experience that profoundly changes your life and the lives of others. There are several treatment options available and you need to educate yourself as to what options can give you the best results that will lead to a happier and healthier life.

Chinese medicine and acupuncture are very important resources that can guide the body towards a healthier state. They can serve as an adjunct treatment for emotional aspects relating to cancer, pain, cancer therapy side effects such as nausea, and weakened immunity due to the invasive and toxic conventional therapies.

The Western medical system’s approach to cancer is derived from a viewpoint known as reductionism, in which person is reduced to the sum of his body parts. This leads to a treatment approach that tends to deal with the parts rather than the whole. Moreover, rather than prevention, Western health care in large part is focused towards treatment. While these approaches may be acceptable, we need a shift towards treating the person as a whole, prevention, allowing the body’s natural healing abilities to participate in the healing process if we truly want to promote health.

Written by Valerie

April 18th, 2017 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Acupuncture

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