Acupuncture as a supportive treatment during cancer care
Sunday 4th February marks World Cancer Day for 2018. New research estimates that from now on, 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and in 2014 alone, 350,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed. Treatment success with conventional medicine has seen great improvements in recent decades and 50% of all patients now survive cancer for 10 or more years. Although there is an increase in survival rates now for many types of cancer, side-effects from these treatments can still remain very difficult for patients on a daily basis.
Acupuncture is now offered in a number of integrative cancer centres in the UK such as the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre linked with Mount Vernon Hospital in Northwood, and the Christie Hospital in Manchester. The growing evidence-base for treatments like acupuncture means that more oncologists than ever before are now recommending it as a supportive treatment to mainstream care for specific symptoms and to improve wellbeing.
How can acupuncture help with side-effects of cancer treatment?
One of the most well-researched areas of acupuncture and cancer care is in treatment-related side-effects such as nausea and vomiting which can affect up to 42% of patients undergoing chemotherapy. There are now a number of randomised controlled clinical trials (RCTs) that have demonstrated acupuncture’s usefulness for these symptoms and a review of the evidence for acupuncture by the National Institute for Health (NIH) stated that ‘there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture is efficacious for adult...chemotherapy nausea and vomiting’.
Besides nausea and vomiting, one of the most debilitating symptoms for cancer patients is hot flushes. A prostate cancer patient I recently treated was experiencing up to 50 flushes a day and which was affecting his quality of life tremendously. This improved significantly to just a few very manageable flushes a day and I’m pleased to say that he is now able to get on with his daily life much more comfortably. These are not one-offs though - research carried out in Mount Vernon has suggested that acupuncture can be beneficial for treatment-related hot flushes in women undergoing treatment for breast cancer as well as in men undergoing prostate cancer treatment. This is further supported by another study published in 2013 which reported that the severity of hot flushes reduced by 70%-95% in women receiving anti-oestrogen therapy after surgery for breast cancer.
For patients with specific cancers or those who have undergone surgery or radiotherapy, pain can be a significant burden and can affect daily function and wellbeing. Pain affects up to 85% of cancer patients and it is perhaps unsurprising that interest in using acupuncture for cancer-related pain is on the up. A number of research studies have suggested that acupuncture can be helpful in reducing the need for analgesics and in improving overall quality of life amongst cancers patients. One of the very first cancer patients I ever treated was seeking help with terrible migraines related to her brain tumour - to this day I still remember how much relief she found from the acupuncture and which had enabled her to return to her usual activities and regain her quality of life again.
How often is treatment usually given?
Treatment protocols can vary but acupuncture treatment once a week and a course of 6-10 weeks is usually recommended for patients to experience lasting benefits of acupuncture treatment. After a course of treatment, my previous patients have used regular monthly sessions to prolong the effects of wellbeing and to support them post-treatment.
I’m a traditional acupuncturist and herbalist and am registered with the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre Complementary Therapists Register. This means I must meet minimal standards of education and training beyond my basic professional requirements and receive ongoing training with the centre to ensure that I remain up-to-date with current knowledge of cancer treatments. I’ve found supporting men and women undergoing cancer treatments immensely rewarding and continue to update my knowledge with CPD events at various venues including with the Mount Vernon team led by the wonderful Pam Thorpe.
If you’d like to find out more about acupuncture with me as a supportive treatment in cancer, please feel free to get in touch directly.
More information can also be found via the following websites and which have been great sources of information to my previous patients:
- Acupuncture by the NIH National Cancer Institute https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/acupuncture-pdq
- Complementary Therapies at the Lynda Jackson Macmillan Cancer Centre http://ljmc.org/1_services/1_comp_therapies/comp_therapies.html
- Acupuncture by Cancer Research UK http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/acupuncture
- Complementary Therapy Services at the Christie NHS Manchester http://www.christie.nhs.uk/services/a-to-h/complementary-therapy/
To support World Cancer Day, you can: