October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and even though the side effects of breast cancer treatment can be horrific, there are ways to alleviate some of them through acupuncture. Depending on your treatment, side effects can include nausea, hot flashes, fatigue, pain and vomiting.
However, BreastCancer.org says that in stimulating the nervous system and releasing our body’s natural painkillers and immune system cells, acupuncture can help relieve the aforementioned afflictions. Acupuncture’s founders, the Chinese, believe that vital energy, or “gi” flows through 20 pathways in the body that are connected by acupuncture points. The goal of acupuncture is to open the points on the pathways, releasing blocked gi.
If you’re being treated for breast cancer and want to try acupuncture, let the practitioner know about the treatment plan you are on, including medications. Make sure that you include herbal supplements in your consultation, however BreastCancer.org strongly suggests not taking herbal supplements if you are taking chemotherapy, as they can reduce the effectiveness.
The organization cites several research studies completed regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture on side effects. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000, 104 women who were in high-dose chemotherapy treatment, were given both anti-nausea medication and five days of electroacupuncture (acupuncture in which needles are stimulated with a mild electrical current), acupuncture without an electrical current, or no acupuncture. “The women who had acupuncture had significantly fewer nausea episodes than those who didn’t,” BreastCancer.org reported.
A Duke University study published in 2002 compared the use of acupuncture to the use of Zofran, an anti-nausea medication, before breast cancer surgery to reduce the nausea that can occur after surgery. The acupuncture treatment was found to work better than Zofran at controlling nausea, BreastCancer.org reported.
Finally, a French study published in 2003 examined acupuncture in treating cancer-related pain. BreastCancer.org reported that patients treated with acupuncture had a 36 percent reduction in pain after two months of acupuncture treatments, compared with a two percent reduction in pain in the patients receiving a placebo type of acupuncture.
Patients are reminded that there are always risks to any therapy, and acupuncture specifically when used on breast cancer patients is no different. The organization warns of possible risk of lymphedema (swelling caused by excess fluid in the arm) for anyone who has had lymph nodes removed from under the arm. She should not have needles inserted into that arm. Aromatherapy could be used on that arm instead. There is also a risk of infection to acupuncture areas for patients with low white blood cell counts. Finally, there may be a risk of bleeding for patients take blood thinners, have bleeding disorders or who have low white blood cell counts.
Of course, each patient’s treatment plan and side effects may vary, and BreastCancer.org says that you may feel relaxed after acupuncture, or you may feel energetic. Either way, avoid activities after treatment that require you to be “extra alert.” Other short-term effects may include changes in appetite, sleep or mood.