Thursday, June 25, 2009

Acupuncture in comprehensive cancer care

Acupuncture should be part of comprehensive cancer care. It reduces all of the side-effects and promotes better therapeutic outcomes. Patients who have acupuncture in conjunction with traditional Western therapies have fewer side-effects, a better quality of life, and live longer.

The first thing that the National Institute of Health (NIH) conceded that acupuncture was actually effective in treating was: Chemotherapy induced nausea. This was back in 1997. They found it to be 97% effective. Nausea brings with it anorexia (loss of appetite), weight loss, and fatigue. Acupuncture helps all of these.

Probably the most dangerous side effects of chemo and radiation is Immunosuppression (impairment of the immune system. Cancer therapies target the rapidly-dividing cells. Cancer cells divide rapidlly, but so do our bone marrow (which make the blood cells). Sometimes the immune system can get so compromised that the patient will have to take a break from therapy. This lets the patient recover, but also the tumor. The best results are obtained when patients can adhere to the recommended schedule of treatment. Acupuncture has been shown to increase the T-Cella, B-Cells, lymphocytes, platelets, immunogloublins, CD4, and CD8 proteins (aid in identifying foreign tissue), and it increases the number and activity of phagocytes (cells that eat invading cells in our bodies).

Another common complaint with chemo is neuropathy, or a tingling or pain in the extremities (fingers and toes usually, but it can affect the leg up to the knee). The chem is toxic and will often pool at the ends of the limbs, damaging the nerves in those areas. Acupuncture help repair neurologic damage. It is often used in stroke rehab because of this ability.

Chemo als affects the brain. The phenomenon is called "chemo brain" and induces a mental fog. Patients have trouble concentrating and remembering things; and this can last for months or even years after the cessation of treatment. Acupuncture can prevent this disorder from setting in and it can treat it once it has.

Depending on the site, radiation has its own set of side-effects. Radiation in the lower thorax (for colon, bladder, testicular, ovarian or uterine cancers) can cause diarrhea or constipation. Acupunctrue treats both of these. Head and neck radiation can damage the salivary glands forever, causing xerostomia or dry mouth. Acupuncture has been shown to be over 90% effecive in treating xerostomia and the results have lasted up to a year. Radiation in the upper chest and neck can cause dyshpagia (difficulty swallowing, requiring tube feeding) and dypsnea (difficulty breathing). Studies have shown acupuncture reduces these as well.

Don't forget about the emotional toll. A diagnosis of cancer will certainly cause some anxiety and often inspired depression as well. The most common side-effect of acupuncture is a sense of calm and well-being. This can last for weeks. Plus it helps that the patient can feel active in their treatment. Much of the approach to cancer involves the doctor or the medicine acting on the passive patient. Adding acupuncture allows the patient to contribute to their recovery.

Chinese medicine is also very concerned with understanding where the cancer came from in the first place, and correcting that cause so it does not return. If patients do not change their diet, lifestlyes and attitudes, the cancer will often return (although it may be at a different location).

I had the unfortunate experiencing of watching my mother fall victim to breast cancer when I was nine years old. I remember how she suffered with the side effects of her treatment. I am grateful to now be in a position to help people combat this terrible disease without such suffering. If you know anyone fighting cancer (or who wants to prevent it) please let them know about acupuncture. Visit for more information about my practice.

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