Getting a grip on cancer pain (Part 2) acupuncture

This form of healing is almost as old as the hills. In fact, the first known book, written 4000 years ago, talks about acupuncture’s ability to restore energy and treat multiple conditions. Finally a few decades ago, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other cancer treatment pioneers in this country recognized acupuncture as a safe way to treat cancer-related pain.  In the 1990’s the FDA approved the acupuncture needle as a medical device. It’s now widely used to control pain, nausea, and vomiting from treatments.

How does it work?
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our natural energy or Qi (pronounced chee) can be unblocked through acupuncture, helping to restore well being. It’s done with very tiny needles inserted at various trigger points on the body. By inserting needles into these acupoints (we have 2000 of them) the flow of Qi is restored.

The way NCI describes it: “Acupuncture may cause physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary glands, and brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that acupuncture  boosts immune system activity,  and causes the body’s natural painkillers, such as endorphins, to be released.”

Studies on acupuncture for cancer pain
In one trial reported by NCI, most patients were able to stop or cut back on drugs for pain. Other studies have shown it helps with muscle and joint pain from aromatase inhibitors, for postmenopausal women with estrogen-positive breast cancer. And this treatment has been shown to curb if not stop vomiting from chemotherapy.

Acupuncture may work best with other therapies. One study showed vitamin B6 injections with acupuncture for nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy brought ovarian cancer patients more relief than acupuncture or vitamin B6 alone. 

If you decide to try acupuncture, you will feel no  discomfort when the needles are inserted, as they are only around 0.2 mm wide. You may feel mild tingling or warmth. After a session, patients normally feel relaxed and refreshed, energized, or sleepy. Most cancer survivors who benefit have less pain within a few sessions.

The FDA requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used; that they are labeled for single use; and used by qualified practitioners only. Most states have laws regulating acupuncture practice, and you should find a practitioner who is certified.

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