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Oncology Acupuncture

What is oncology acupuncture?

Acupuncture does not treat cancer. It’s not the purpose of acupuncture.

However, acupuncture is clinically proven to be effective in reducing the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapies, radiation therapies, and surgeries.  In multiple randomized control experiments, acupuncture has shown to:

  • Reduce both the intensity and frequency of hot flashes
  • Reduce chemo induced vomit and nausea
  • Alleviate the pain, particularly the chemo induced neuropathic pain
  • Reduce anxiety and stress response, improve overall emotional and mental wellness

Major cancer centers like Dana Farber, Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson, Stanford, UCSF, and Mayo Clinic have all adopted a patient centric paradigm to cancer treatments in recent years.  And what a patient centric paradigm means is that researchers and oncologists have recognized and concluded that cancer treatments are much more than just eradicating the malignant tumor cells, it’s about helping the patients cope with the arduous process, mitigating the side effects, improving their quality of life, helping them heal both physically and mentally.  And that entails adopting and embracing softer medical practices such acupuncture.  As long as the researchers can ascertain with sufficient data that these adjunct modalities can help the patients in specific areas without interfering with the cancer treatments, these modalities should integrated into the overall treatment program.

I can only imagine how hard it must have been for these centers to get started with incorporating alternative medicine into a patient centric paradigm.  The good news is that acupuncture did not disappoint.  Multiple studies have shown solid evidence of how acupuncture can help improve the patients’ quality of life by mitigating the side effects.  This does not mean that acupuncture can or should replace opioid for pain, or anti-emetics for nausea and vomiting, but it does offer the doctors another viable tool to their arsenal, and gives the patients an additional resource and treatment option.

How is oncology acupuncture different from regular acupuncture?

Oncology acupuncture is built on the regular traditional acupuncture, and it retains all the benefits of traditional acupuncture. However, it has a set of clinically proven protocols to address conditions such as hot flashes, dry mouth/eyes, and neuropathic pain, conditions that are not familiar to most practitioners.

Also, these protocols help establish a baseline, a solid starting point.  But it certainly does not prevent an acupuncturist from incorporating additional acupuncture points to the treatment or other adjunct modalities such as e-stim, moxibustion, etc., to address each patient’s unique needs.

When should a cancer patient start using oncology acupuncture

In a patient centric paradigm, acupuncture is used to support the patient through the process of cancer treatments.  Patients commonly started using acupuncture during the active chemotherapy/radiation therapy phase to help reduce the side effect and continued the supportive acupuncture treatment in the neo-adjuvant phase to continue to manage the side effects.

The common course of acupuncture treatment is ten sessions.  Twice weekly during the adjuvant phase and once per week in the neo-adjuvant phase.

Oncology acupuncture requires tighter communications amongst the oncologists, patients, and the acupuncturists.  It is important for an acupuncturist to be well versed in typical cancer treatment regimens and to be familiar with the patient’s treatment cycles, and to be aware of the medication the patient’s taking.

If you have any questions about how acupuncture can help you through your cancer treatments, contact me.  I’m here to help.


I personally find oncology acupuncture to be possibly the highest calling for acupuncturists.  Cancer, the emperor of all maladies, as Siddartha Mukherjee called it, is still the bane of human existence.  Fortunately, with sufficient screenings and early detections, cancer is no longer the death knell that it once was.

But the treatment process still takes a toll on the patients.  But that too, is getting better.  Here is a list of studies that definitely concluded the benefits of acupuncture in aiding the patients in dealing with adverse effects.  And notice how recent most of these papers were published.  We now know what acupuncture can do, we can do it with certainty, pride, and a sense of confidence – time to go to work.

  1. Electroacupuncture Versus Gabapentin for Hot Flashes Among Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial.
  2. Acupuncture As an Integrative Approach for the Treatment of Hot Flashes in Women With Breast Cancer: A Prospective Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial (AcCliMaT). .
  3. Acupuncture for hot flashes: Decision making by breast cancer survivors. JJ Mao.
  4. Acupuncture for Pain Management in Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, 2016.
  5. A randomised trial of electro-acupuncture for arthralgia related to aromatase inhibitor use, 2014.
  6. Management of Chronic Pain inSurvivors of Adult Cancers:ASCO Clinical PracticeGuideline Summary, 2016.
  7. Systematic review of acupuncture in cancer care: a synthesis of the evidence, 2013.
  8. Acupuncture-point stimulation for chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting, 2006.
  9. Acupuncture for dry mouth, 2012.

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