As Seen on TV: Acupuncture and Cancer

Learn more about how this ancient treatment eases breast cancer side effects.

ByABC News
September 22, 2008, 5:29 PM

Sept. 22, 2008— -- New research suggests that acupuncture, an ancient Chinese form of healing, is as good or better than modern medicine in helping ease the side effects of breast cancer treatment. Researchers say acupuncture, which has been around for thousands of years, can give cancer patients a wide range of benefits. Dr. Barrie Cassileth, chief of integrative medicine services at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, shares her advice and answers common questions about acupuncture for cancer patients.

Acupuncture does not cure disease, but it may very well help many different symptoms. Give it a try. You have little to lose, and if it helps, wonderful. If after 2 or 3 sessions the problem is not better, drop it.

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has a Web site to help locate certified practitioners. Physicians who are also licensed acupuncturists typically note this by including "LAc" after their MD. Currently there is no credentialing system for acupuncturists trained in oncology. Some oncologists refer patients to acupuncturists known to specialize in treating cancer patients.

An acupuncturist who is certified or licensed, and who has training or experience working with cancer patients. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's integrative medicine department offers this training for certified acupuncturists. Similar training may be available at other major integrative medicine centers, as well.

Treating cancer patients requires special knowledge and experience. It is important to find an acupuncturist who is familiar with cancer diagnoses and related implications for acupuncture treatment. They must also be familiar with standard cancer treatments (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy), their side effects and the precautions that should be taken.

It depends on the patient's symptoms and condition. Some patients may obtain significant relief after one or two treatments. However, symptoms, like hot flashes, may take 10 to 20 treatments to realize the maximum benefit. The positive effects of acupuncture appear to be cumulative.