Cancer is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear. It can throw you into a tumult of overwhelming feelings and fears. But if you or a loved one is facing cancer, it is very important to have hope. In many cases, cancer can be cured, especially when it’s detected early. There are more treatments available now than ever before to cure cancer or slow it from spreading, relieve its symptoms, and improve your quality of life.
You have options in addition to conventional medical treatments. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have been used for thousands of years to treat a wide variety of conditions. It can safely be used to naturally support your body and mind as you undergo standard cancer treatments. A recent large scale literature review (The Acupuncture Evidence Project, which I discuss here) provides evidence that acupuncture can be used to alleviate various symptoms related to cancer or conventional treatment.
Understanding treatments and their side effects
Cancer is an umbrella term for a group of diseases that occur when cells begin to reproduce abnormally, eventually damaging or killing healthy tissue. Most cancers are named according to where they originate in the body, and there are more than one hundred different types. Some of the most common are breast, colon, lung, prostate, and skin cancer.
Your treatment plan will be based on many factors, including the type and stage (how far it has spread) of the cancer and your overall health. While conventional cancer treatments have proven to be effective, they do have serious side effects to take into account. The most common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and biological therapy, with side effects ranging from nausea, vomiting and fatigue to hair loss and early menopause.
How acupuncture and TCM can help
Acupuncture and TCM have been used for thousands of years to maintain health and relieve symptoms. Acupuncturists work to treat imbalances in the body’s Qi, or vital energy, by inserting fine, sterile needles at specific acupuncture points.
Since acupuncture has few side effects, it can be safely used as a complement to biomedical cancer treatments. In fact, in many cancer cases acupuncture is recommended as a way to soothe and reduce side effects of conventional treatments.
According to the Acupuncture Evidence Project, acupuncture has:
Strong evidence of effectiveness, with consistent statistically significant positive effects for:
- Chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting
- Post-operative nausea and vomiting
- Post-operative pain;
Moderate evidence of effectiveness with moderate/high quality positive evidence for:
- Cancer pain,
- Cancer related fatigue,
- Recovery after colorectal cancer resection; and
Weak (promising) positive evidence (most likely due to lack of research or funding) for:
- Cancer-related insomnia,
- Cancer-related psychological symptoms, and
- Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.
Acupuncture and TCM can also help to relieve stress, anxiety and depression, which can greatly improve your quality of life during this challenging time. It is important to remember however, that acupuncture is not a quick fix.
A TCM approach to cancer care
An important branch of cancer care treatment according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on the principle of“Fu Zheng” ("Fortify the Righteous”).
“Fu Zheng” means strengthening what is correct. The objective is to support and stimulate deep energy systems within the body to make it stronger and ensure proper physiological functioning. Medical research conducted in China has found that Fu Zheng therapy helps to protect the immune system from the damaging effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy and thus improves clinical outcomes. Fu Zheng therapy also helps to improve overall quality of life.
Treating the person, not just the disease
Acupuncture practitioners take a wholistic (whole-body) approach to cancer care. This means that not only will your symptoms be considered, but your lifestyle, emotional state, and overall health as well. Your whole being will be taken into account, not just the cancer.
When you work in partnership with your acupuncturist to improve your health and relieve your side effects, you are not only helping yourself get the most from conventional treatments, you’re taking back the control of your own life.
This article has been updated on 05/09/2019.
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