Cancer and the treatments for cancer are associated with various symptoms. Fatigue is the most common symptom reported by survivors of cancer (Johnston 2007). Forty percent of people with early or intermediate stage cancer, and 90% with advanced cancer, have moderate to severe pain; up to 70% of those with cancer pain do not receive adequate pain relief (Paley 2011). Hot flushes are common in women with a history of breast cancer.
Many patients undergoing chemotherapy experience nausea and vomiting . The symptoms can be severe, impairing a patient's quality of life, causing emotional distress, and aggravating cancer-related symptoms such as cachexia, lethargy and weakness.
How acupuncture can help
Pain Relief Acupuncture may provide long-term pain relief in patients with cancer.
Fatigue Acupuncture may be an effective treatment for fatigue which is reported so frequent by survivors of Cancer.
Nausea and vomiting Acupuncture can help relieve nausea and vomiting, especially in acute situations.
In general, acupuncture is believed to stimulate the nervous system and cause the release of neurochemical messenger molecules. The resulting biochemical changes influence the body's homeostatic mechanisms, thus promoting physical and emotional well-being.
Research has shown that acupuncture treatment may specifically benefit symptoms associated with cancer and its treatment by:
- Acting on areas of the brain known to reduce sensitivity to pain and stress, as well as promoting relaxation and deactivating the 'analytical' brain, which is responsible for anxiety and worry
- Regulating neurotransmitters (or their modulators) and hormones such as serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, GABA, neuropeptide Y and ACTH; hence altering the brains's mood chemistry to help to combat negative affective states
- Increasing the release of adenosine, which has antinociceptive properties
- Improving muscle stiffness and joint mobility by increasing local microcirculation , which aids dispersal of swelling;
- Stimulating production of endogenous opioids that affect the autonomic nervous system. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, while acupuncture can activate the opposing parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the relaxation response;
- Reducing inflammation, by promoting release of vascular and immunomodulatory factors
NB Acupuncture may be used for some of the symptoms of cancer, and the side effects of conventional cancer treatments, but it is not used to address the cancer itself.