As Seen on TV: Acupuncture and Cancer

Acupuncture is used to control pain, fatigue, post-operative or chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting . A recent study showed that acupuncture reduced xerostomia (extreme dry mouth) and skeletomuscular pain and dysfunction experienced by head and neck cancer patients, following radiotherapy. Acupuncture also can help relieve neuropathic pain caused by some types of chemotherapy or by nerve damage.

How long will each session last and what can I expect?

A typical session last about 30-45 minutes. An extra 30 minutes may be required during the first visit. The acupuncturist may ask questions related to the patient's condition, and may also conduct a physical examination. Then, 10 to 20 sterile, single-use needles are carefully inserted at selected points. The acupuncturist may manipulate the needles to enhance the therapeutic effects. Most people report feeling relaxed during and after acupuncture treatment.

How much pain will I experience from the needles?

Acupuncture needles are made of very thin stainless steel. They are much thinner than needles used in hospitals. Most patients do not feel any pain from the needles. If any discomfort or soreness is felt during the treatment, the acupuncturist can adjust the position of the needle.

What is the most common side effect from acupuncture?

Bruises and minor bleeding or irritation at the site of needling, but these problems are very rare.

Is treating chemotherapy-induced hot flashes different from treating the typical hot flashes of menopause?

An experienced acupuncturist usually customizes the treatment according to the patient's symptoms. Chemotherapy-induced hot flashes have a different cause compared to hot flashes associated with menopause. Different acupuncture points may be used for each cause.

For more information on acupuncture and cancer, check out the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's "An Introduction to Acupuncture."

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