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Supportive Care for Cancer

Acupuncture for Cancer

For Patients and Survivors

Acupuncture has been shown to ease the nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, fatigue, anxiety, depression and immune suppression that can often accompany cancer treatment.[1] Acupuncture and Chinese medicine have also been shown to ease side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation, such as insomnia, night sweats, hot flashes, lack of appetite, weight loss, constipation or diarrhea, pain and melancholy. Our goal is to help patients tolerate the maximum recommended dose of radiation or chemotherapy, in order to promote the best medical outcome.  Our licensed acupuncturists help patients manage the side-effects of rigorous cancer treatment so they can stay strong through treatment and recovery.

A recent study on menopausal breast cancer patients shows acupuncture is just as effective as drug therapy in reducing menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. Acupuncture has the added advantages of being virtually side-effect free, and of increasing energy, clarity of thought and sex drive.[2]  Acupuncture has also been shown to relieve joint pain and stiffness in post-menopausal breast cancer patients who have taken aromatase inhibitors.[3]

In survivors, acupuncture bolsters quality of life by treating some of the permanent effects of chemotherapy. Those who have had surgery find that acupuncture improves range of motion and flexibility and decreases pain associated with scar tissue. Survivors often experience peripheral neuropathy---a chronic side-effect of chemotherapy in which fingers and toes can feel numb, weak or tingly---which can be managed with acupuncture.  Studies also show that acupuncture can reduce pain and weakness.  In one study, patients with advanced gynecological cancers reported a significant reduction in pain after 5 to 7 treatment sessions. Without any further treatment, these patients' pain and weakness were less severe for up to ten months.[4] [5]

What to Expect During Acupuncture Treatment

Acupuncturists insert thin, sterile needles at various points on the body. The exact number and location of these needles is specific to the individual patient. In addition, acupuncturists may use electrostimulation (stimulating pressure points with an electrical current), cupping (suction at pressure points), dietary therapy, and Chinese herbs. It is safe to receive acupuncture immediately after a chemotherapy session, and patients who do so report reduced discomfort following a treatment.

Appointments are available at our Green Spring Station office and at the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Hackerman-Patz Patient and Family Pavilion. Patients are treated in a comfortable private room.  Please inform your doctor or medical care provider of any integrative therapies used to support your cancer treatment. 

[1] Cohen, Andrea J., Alexander Menter, and Lyndsey Hale. “Acupuncture: Role in comprehensive cancer care—A Primer for the oncologist and review of the literature.” Integrative Cancer Therapies 4, no. 2 (2005): 131-143, accessed January 26, 2010.

[2] Walker, Eleanor M., Alba I. Rodriguez. et al. “Acupuncture versus venlafaxine for the management of vasomotor symptoms in patients with hormone receptor-positive breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial.”  Journal of Clinical Oncology 28, no. 4, (Feb 1 2010).

[3] Crew, K., et al. (2010). “Randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial of acupuncture for the management of aromatase inhibitor-associated joint symptoms in women with early-stage breast cancer.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 28 (7), 1154-1160.

[4] Wong, R. and S. Sagar. “Acupuncture treatment for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.” Acupuncture in Medicine 2006.

[5] "Acupuncture.” NIH Consensus Conference. JAMA 280 (17): 1518-24, 1998.