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How is acupuncture used to help treat cancer?

Acupuncture originated in China and has been practiced for more than 2,500 years. It is a technique in which hair-thin needles are inserted through the skin to treat a variety of conditions. Patients often require a series of six to 10 treatments to experience benefits for specific conditions. Acupuncture sessions typically last between 20 and 30 minutes. Most people who receive acupuncture treatment feel minimal or no pain from the needles. Some people feel more relaxed following a treatment, and others may feel more energized.

While it is not fully understood, the mechanism of acupuncture for pain and symptom distress may involve helping the brain to release neurochemicals such as endorphins and regulating the autonomic nervous system.

Acupuncture is safe and can assist cancer patients with:
  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth related to radiotherapy
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Overall sense of wellness
  • Arthritic/muscle pain
  • Back/neck pain
  • Chronic shoulder pain
  • Headache
  • Neuropathy related to chemotherapy
Acupuncture should not be used as a sole treatment for cancer; however, clinical studies have found it may help relieve many of the symptoms and side effects caused by the cancer treatments. Acupuncture is very safe and does not interact with cancer therapies. The most common side effects are mild pain associated with needling and bruising.
Acupuncture is used in conjunction with other cancer therapies to:
  • Control pain and post-operative swelling
  • Minimize the need for pain medications
  • Help speed recovery time
  • Relieve nausea
  • Reduce breathlessness

How it's used: An acupuncturist taps thin needles into the skin at specific points on the body to stimulate the healing process. Most people find this procedure to be relatively painless.

Caution: This treatment should not be used alone to fight cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether this treatment is right for you and try to get a referral from a licensed physician.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.