Cancer treatments often lead to uncomfortable side effects and pain that can last well beyond the final treatment. To manage that pain, several people turn to acupuncture – a treatment derived from traditional Chinese medicine.
In this article, we will explore if acupuncture benefits relieve side effects of chemo and radiation, cancer pain.
What Is Cancer Pain?
Not everyone suffering from cancer experiences cancer pain, but some do. If you have cancer that’s recurred or spread, your chances of experiencing pain are higher.
Cancer pain can take several forms. It can be achy, burning, dull, or sharp. It can be mild, moderate, severe, intermittent, or constant. How much pain you feel depends on various factors, including the type of cancer you have, where its located, which stage it’s in, and your pain tolerance.
Most cancer pain is fairly manageable, and controlling it is a vital part of your treatment.
Pain can be a result of cancer itself. It can happen if cancer destroys or grows into nearby tissue. As a tumor starts to grow, it can press on bones, organs, or nerves. The tumor can even release pain-inducing chemicals.
Cancer treatment can alleviate the pain in these situations. Nevertheless, many cancer treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, can also cause pain.
What Is Radiation Therapy and Chemotherapy?
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are both cancer treatments – the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells to surrounding tissues.
Chemotherapy, also known as “chemo,” uses special drugs to eliminate or shrink cancer cells. On the other hand, radiation therapy, also known as “radiation,” kills these cells using high-energy beams such as protons or X-rays.
Both therapies have the same goals:
- Cure – Get rid of all cancer cells and prevent the disease from recurring
- Control – Slow or shrink cancer tumors to control the spread of cancer cells to other parts of the body
- Relief – Reduce the size of tumors to minimize pain and other difficult cancer symptoms (sometimes known as palliative radiation therapy).
When there is no possible cure, both radiation therapy and chemotherapy can be effective tools to slow down the progress of your cancer and alleviate pain along with other troubling symptoms.
Acupuncture Benefits Relieve Side Effects Of Chemo And Radiation, Cancer Pain
In this section, we will explore how acupuncture benefits relieve side effects of cancer pain, chemotherapy, and radiation.
This particular study from 2003 examined the effectiveness of auricular acupuncture in reducing the intensity of pain in cancer patients. 90 people suffering from cancer were randomly allocated into three groups. The first group got two courses of auricular acupuncture at points where no electrodermal signal was detected. The second group got auricular acupuncture with no electrodermal signal and one with auricular seeds located at placebo points.
The results of the research indicated a reduction in the intensity of pain. This highlights a clear advantage of auricular acupuncture for cancer patients who are suffering from pain, regardless of stable analgesic treatment.
Another article reviewed the existing literature (from January 2000 to April 2013) for acupuncture in cancer-associated psychological symptoms with attention to both acupuncture-specific methodology and efficacy. All the published studies that met the review criteria demonstrated a positive sign for acupuncture for the treatment of anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, and for enhancing the quality of life, with many results showing statistical significance.
According to the National Cancer Institute, research reveals acupuncture can alleviate a large range of symptoms associated with cancer treatments, such as:
- Dry mouth, caused by radiation therapy
- Fatigue, common in several cancer patients and is usually a side effect of radiation therapy and chemotherapy
- Hot flashes because of hormone therapy
- Vomiting and nausea, caused by surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
- Pain, encompassing postoperative pain and joint and muscle pain caused by hormone therapy
- Peripheral neuropathy, a frequent side effect of chemotherapy that causes numbness, muscle weakness, and pain in the hands or feet.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
The current article summarized all relevant studies available on the impact of acupuncture to minimize radiation-related side effects. The primary objective of all trials was to indicate that verum acupuncture has the potential to minimize common side effects, such as fatigue, in patients exposed to radiation therapy.
The article found that multiple groups showed a significant reduction in symptoms with acupuncture concomitant to radiation therapy. All studies showed that acupuncture is associated with better results in alleviating disorders as compared to control groups.
Another research states that randomized clinical trials have shown that acupuncture is effective for chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea. Moreover, research studies also suggest that acupuncture might be helpful in managing chemotherapy-associated neutropenia, cancer-related pain, radiation-induced xerostomia, and cancer fatigue.
Cancer Pain According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
Patients with advanced tumors usually have a deficiency of vital qi, which is clinically presented as anorexia, cancer-related pain, vomiting/nausea, indigestion, constipation, fever, fatigue, which significantly impact the quality of life. TCM-based treatments such as acupuncture can significantly relieve the clinical symptoms, enhance the quality of life, and have a positive impact on cancer pain.
The TCM theories state that “unblocking the meridian and regulating qi ” is vital to resolving pains, including cancer pain. The acupoints have to be meticulously chosen and coordinated according to the clinical signs/symptoms.
Last Few Words
Acupuncture can be useful in managing cancer pain. Since the risks of using acupuncture are fairly small, acupuncture can be a safe, alternative treatment option for many people experiencing cancer pain and undergoing radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
At the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) Main Clinic, we specialize in offering treatments for many different conditions. We are the only herbal and acupuncture clinic affiliated with a specialized Oriental medicine institution in Houston.
Schedule an appointment with us at 713-780-9786 or at our clinics at Houston Methodist Hospital at 713-441-5980.