For Patients & Caregivers
Acupuncture is effective in treating chronic pain and some symptoms associated with cancer treatment.
Acupuncture is a component of Traditional Chinese Medicine and involves use of needles, heat (moxibustion), pressure (acupressure) or electricity to stimulate one or more points in the body to promote the flow of Qi (internal energy). The World Health Organization supports the use of acupuncture in reducing symptoms, such as depression, facial pain, headache, peripheral neuropathy, lower back pain, nausea and vomiting, neck pain, postoperative pain, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, hot flashes and side effects caused by radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy. Acupuncture reduced symptoms of sneezing, itching, and runny nose in children with allergies, and may be useful against allergic rhinitis in adults when used along with standard medications. It also improved pregnancy rates in women following in vitro fertilization, but did not provide pain relief in women undergoing induced labor.
Acupuncture treatments are generally safe and well tolerated by most patients. Some conditions may require continuous treatments in order to achieve long-term effect.
Cancer patients considering acupuncture should seek certified or state-licensed practitioners who have training or experience in working with cancer patients.
Several clinical trials showed that acupuncture is effective in alleviating pain.
- In vitro fertilization
Some studies show acupuncture can improve pregnancy rates in women following in vitro fertilization. But a recent study showed no benefits.
Acupuncture is as effective as counseling in reducing symptoms of depression.
This use is supported by clinical trials.
Several clinical trials showed that acupuncture reduces fatigue.
This use is supported by scientific evidence.
A number of studies support the use of acupuncture in treating nausea.
- Cancer-related symptoms
Several clinical trials support the use of acupuncture in relieving pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, and hot flashes resulting from cancer treatments.
A few studies have shown that acupuncture is useful in treating allergic rhinitis when used along with standard care.
Several randomized clinical trials show that acupuncture can help smokers quit the habit.
Acupuncture is not recommended:
- If you have low white blood cell count, low platelet count or heart murmur (symptom of endocarditis). Acupuncture may increase risk of infection and bleeding.
- If you are pregnant (some acupuncture points can cause strong uterine contractions. Pregnant women should inform practitioners before seeking acupuncture treatment)
- If you wear pacemakers (electrical stimulation is contraindicated for patients wearing electronic medical devices)
For Healthcare Professionals
Acupuncture, an important component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), originated more than 2,000 years ago. Treatment involves stimulation of one or more predetermined points on the body with needles, heat (moxibustion), pressure (acupressure), or electricity for therapeutic effect.
Acupuncture is beneficial for osteoarthritis of the knee (1) (2) (3), chronic mechanical neck pain (4), Bell palsy (72), and symptoms associated with fibromyalgia (5). It was also superior to physical therapy (6) in treating patients with low back pain compared with usual care (7) (8) and was cost effective (9). Acupuncture also reduced high blood pressure (10)and the severity of hot flashes in postmenopausal women (11) . Acupuncture is as effective as counseling in reducing symptoms of depression (77), but had mixed results for treating major depressive disorder (12) (13). In addition, studies show benefits of acupuncture for peripheral neuropathy (14), including that associated with diabetes (15), AIDS (16) (17), and chemotherapy (18) (19) (80). It also reduced the risk of stroke in patients with traumatic brain injury (78). Data from clinical trials support use of acupuncture for chronic headache (20) (21) (22), but there was no difference between true and sham acupuncture. However, the treatments were more effective compared with a no acupuncture control (23). Conclusions from a meta-analysis show that acupuncture is an effective treatment for chronic pain (67).
Acupuncture may help in smoking cessation (61). It is a useful adjunct to standard treatment for dyspnea on exertion (DOE), a symptom associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) (62).
Acupuncture also improved reproductive outcomes in women following in vitro fertilization, but clinical studies yielded conflicting results (24) (25) (26) (27) (28). Acupuncture increased ovulation frequency, but reduced sex steroids levels, in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (75). Acupuncture did not have an analgesic effect in women undergoing induced labor (29). Acupuncture treatments reduced symptoms of chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain (30), and decreased procedural anxiety in patients undergoing lithotripsy (31). Data from a study done in children undergoing endoscopic procedures indicate benefits of acupressure in reducing preprocedural anxiety (32). Acupuncture may also benefit patients with allergic rhinitis when used in conjunction with standard care, and was cost effective (33) (34).
Acupuncture is being used in the palliative care of cancer to alleviate pain (35) (36), dysfunction (36), fatigue (37) (71), to reduce post-operative (38) and chemotherapy-induced (39) (41) (42) (81) nausea and vomiting, and to ameliorate xerostomia or dry mouth, commonly experienced by cancer patients following radiotherapy of the head and neck regions (36) (43) (44) (63) (70). Findings from randomized trials suggest that acupuncture is as effective as standard care for hot flashes in breast cancer patients (45), and that electroacupuncture may be more effective than gabapentin for hot flashes with fewer side effects (82). Acupuncture also alleviated aromatase inhibitor-induced joint pain and stiffness, improving physical well-being in patients with breast cancer (46) (74). Early phase studies also suggest that acupuncture can help relieve hot flashes in prostate cancer patients (64) (65) (66),and can improve pain and well-being in lung cancer patients (76). Acupuncture does not reduce postoperative ileus from standard surgery (40) (56). However, electroacupuncture does reduce postoperative ileus and analgesic use after laparoscopic surgery for colorectal cancer (73).
Acupuncture is generally safe and well tolerated by patients (68) (69) including children (47) (48) (49). Some conditions require continuous treatments in order to achieve long-term effect. Pregnant women, patients with lymphedema, those wearing pacemakers, and those with low platelet count should inform their practitioners before receiving treatment. Cancer patients considering acupuncture should seek certified or state-licensed practitioners who have training or experience in working with cancer patients.
According to TCM, acupuncture points are thought to be located at specific areas along channels or meridians. Qi (energy) is believed to flow in this network of channels which connect different parts of the body and organs into a unified system. Pain and symptoms of disease are thought to arise when the flow of Qi is stagnated and acupuncture is intended to promote the flow of Qi to relieve symptoms. Acupuncture is known to stimulate release of endogenous opioids. Scientific studies have demonstrated that acupuncture can induce analgesia, but that effect was blocked by naloxone, an opioid antagonist (50) (51). Further, mice lacking opiate receptors showed low analgesic effect following electroacupuncture (EA) (52). Recent research shows that EA inhibits pain through different opioid receptors under varying conditions, but the mechanisms warrant further investigation (53). EA was shown to increase ovarian blood flow via ovarian sympathetic nerves in rats (54). In women with polycystic ovary syndrome, acupuncture treatments increase ovulation frequency through the local peripheral effect on ovaries and not by stimulating the sex steroids (75). Acupuncture protects against cerebral ischemia by increasing blood flow to the ischemic brain region via neural regulation (55). The systemic antiinflammatory activities of EA are thought to be modulated by dopamine (79).
Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown that acupuncture elicits changes in the brain that appear to correlate with neurological effects produced (57). Needling of LI-2, one of several acupoints used to treat xerostomia, is associated with neuroimaging changes correlated to saliva production (58). Results from a study done in patients with peripheral neuropathy indicate that acupuncture improves nerve conduction (14).
Acupuncture also increases neuropeptite Y in animals suggesting it has benefits in reducing stress and depression (59) (60).
- Neutropenia, thrombocytopenia, or history of endocarditis
Acupuncture may increase risk of infection and bleeding. Use with caution.
Pregnant women should inform practitioners before seeking acupuncture treatment.
Electrical stimulation is contraindicated for patients wearing electronic medical devices.