In June of 2009 I was able to attend an integrative oncology seminar entitled Acupuncture For the Cancer Patient at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. I have seen profound results treating patients going through chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These aggressive therapies can leave people nauseated and stripped of the energy necessary to perform daily routines. After a course of acupuncture treatments, many patients are able to continue working and being involved in their family’s lives. I wanted to learn more from the experts on how I could help people through this challenging time of unknowns and physical and emotional distress.
Acupuncture has three main roles in the care of patients with cancer: supportive care, symptom management, and preventative care. Acupuncture is used in many hospital settings and continues to grow in recognition for the many benefits it has to offer oncology care. The use of acupuncture in this field has the potential for much growth. While allopathic medicine is the main course of treatment, acupuncture has the unique ability to offer help without side effects or further complications.
Using acupuncture for supportive care and symptom management allows for reduced nausea and pain, and increased energy. It can help lesson common side effects like dry mouth, digestive concerns, depression and anxiety. Many people describe feeling an increased sense of overall wellness.
Acupuncture is effective for patients receiving chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgical interventions. For the chemotherapy and radiation patient, acupuncture can help alleviate the toxic side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, skin burns, anemia, hair loss and fatigue. For the surgical patient, acupuncture is beneficial pre-surgery to promote relaxation, prevent infection and other side effects. Post-surgery, acupuncture decreases swelling, and promotes mental alertness, intestinal mobility, urination and healing at the site of incision.
Though scientists have not yet been able to find the mechanism of how acupunture works, they have observed its effects on certain physiological processes. Acupuncture helps release neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine and modulates sensory pain centers in the brain producing an analgesic effect. Certain acupuncture points improve T-cell counts, while others can increase white blood cell (WBC) count.
The other main take-away from the seminar reflected the importance of diet and exercise in survival rates. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2005, found that the adjusted risk of death from breast cancer decreased by 50-60% for greater than nine hours per week of exercise versus less than three hours a week. While this
amount of exercise is a definite investment of your time, it is a striking statistic that warrants thoughtful consideration as to how we manage cancer care.
Through a study in 2008, the Mediterranean diet was found to offer benefits, including a 9% reduction in overall mortality, a 6% reduction in cancer mortality, and a 13% decreased incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Other diets, such as the macrobiotic diet, have been reported by individuals to be effective in maintaining health after cancer if followed appropriately.
Nicole practices acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine at Core De Vie on Mondays and Wednesdays.