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04 Apr 20223 min

Acupuncture: a cure for the side effects of cancer therapies

Integrated oncology: union of traditional medicine and acupuncture

Oncological diagnosis and therapies often cause severe psychological distress, insecurity, anxiety, insomnia and depression. These reactions influence the course of the disease and affect the patient's quality of life.

Acupuncture has become a popular and valid Integrated Medicine approach to support conventional oncological treatments, particularly as patients increasingly seek non-pharmacological alternatives. It is mainly used to treat the symptoms like pain, nausea, fatigue, vasomotor symptoms and other symptoms related to conventional treatment. Oncological diseases are multi-factorial and they need a personalized multidisciplinary approach. However, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy remain indispensable cornerstones of the conventional treatment.

Scientific evidence to support acupuncture during cancer

About 73% of the Oncology Centers in the USA offer their patients various complementary therapies. World’s leading cancer clinics like the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mayo Clinics and The Royal Marsden Hospital in London (UK) are prominently offering acupuncture to relieve cancer side effects.

Numerous scientific articles support the role of acupuncture as a complementary therapy and demonstrated that it relieves cancer related symptoms and side effects like cancer related fatigue, nausea and vomiting (postoperative and secondary to chemotherapy). Moreover, vasomotor symptoms are common debilitating side effects of anti-estrogen treatment in breast cancer care. Hormone replacement therapy, normally used in postmenopausal women to treat these symptoms, is contraindicated in breast cancer patients. Research shows that adding acupuncture to breast cancer treatment is more effective in managing symptoms with fewer side effects than conventional pharmacotherapy treatment. Also, acupuncture treatment resulted in a statistically significant reduction of cancer related pain.

Through the use of functional brain imaging techniques it has been found that acupuncture needles can alter the activity and connectivity of higher brain structures and can be explained through a neurobiological model. Acupuncture has an analgesic effect by promoting the production of endogenous opioids such as endorphins and has an anti-inflammatory. Moreover it has an anxiolytic and antidepressant effect and improves sleep quality.

The existing scientific evidence is demonstrating that acupuncture is cost-effective and has no side effects. Acupuncture should therefore no longer be viewed as some mystic practice and will play an increasing role in supportive oncological care for now and in the future. And in the end, the final aim should be improving the patient’s quality of life.

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Dr. Med. Elena Rinaldi & Dr. Med. Raymond Landgraaf