Acupuncture for Cancer Patients

Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine has much to offer cancer patients, and cancer centers, such as Memorial Sloan Kettering, the Mayo clinic and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as part of their treatment protocols. In fact, Memorial Sloan Kettering has an integrative oncology course for acupuncturists.

“. . . it is acknowledged that most cancer patients suffer from both the disease itself and symptoms induced by conventional treatment.”1  “Chinese medicine plays an important role in minimizing disability, protecting cancer patients against suffering from complications, and helping patients to live well 6. Chinese medicine may also assist in supportive and palliative care by reducing side-effects of conventional treatment or improving quality of life.7 It is estimated the United States National Cancer Institute (NCI) spends around $120 million each year on CAM related research projects. 8,2

“The earliest records of tumors can be traced back to inscriptions on bones and tortoiseshells in the 16th–11th century B.C., and the “malignant sores” with “swelling but without ulceration” recorded by traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctors in Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) already presented various theories and approaches to treat cancer.” 4,3

Though some TCM practitioners do treat cancers directly generally using Chinese herbal medicine and I have had success in doing so, Chinese medicine is more often accepted and used in western countries as an adjunctive therapy to standard treatment protocols patients are already receiving, such as chemo, radiation and surgery. As the National Cancer Institute explains in its Questions and Answers About Acupuncture, acupuncture is useful for treating many of the symptoms cancer patients experience as a result of the disease and the western treatments, including pain, fatigue, G/I symptoms (such as nausea and poor appetite), hot flashes, hair loss, and improving immune function and blood cell counts. Acupuncture can also treat peripheral neuropathy caused by chemo therapy, as this case study from my clinic demonstrates.

In 2007, anesthesiologists at Duke University Medical Center analyzed data from 15 randomized trials demonstrating that patients receiving acupuncture before and during surgery have a much lower need for powerful pain killing drugs, such as opiods.

Dr. Tong Joo Gan, who presented the results of the analysis at the annual scientific conference of the American Society for Anesthesiology in San Francisco, says based on the results of the analysis, acupuncture should be considered a viable option for pain control in surgery patients. . . 4

“We have conducted a number of these studies comparing acupuncture with a well-recognized anti-emetic or anti-sickness medication,” said Gan. “And acupuncture compares very well. And in some instances, acupuncture may even be better.” 5

Gan believes that acupuncture is slowly becoming more accepted by American physicians, but is still underutilized, and the study may encourage more doctors to include acupuncture in their routine care of surgery patients. 6

In this video Dr. Gan demonstrates and discusses his use of acupuncture anesthesia during surgery.

Chinese medicine also addresses the depression, anxiety and insomnia cancer patients understandably experience. I often tell patients that stress reduction is a side effect of acupuncture.

One of my cancer patients often complained that she was so tired of being poked and prodded by western medical practitioners. Acupuncture is administered in a quiet, relaxed setting. You can plan for an hour of much needed down time during your treatment. While listening to soothing music many patients find they drift off to sleep. I treat boutique style, seeing one patient at a time. So you get my focused attention during your visit.

Huffington Post recommends acupuncture for cancer patients.

Chinese Herbal Medicine for Cancer Patients

Chinese herbal medicine is useful for treating many of these symptoms, including radiation burns, chemo-induced G/I symptoms[ also: http://news.yale.edu/2010/08/18/ancient-chinese-herbal-recipe-eases-side-effects-chemotherapy] and brain fog, strengthening immune function so the body can fight the disease, and rebuilding the body after debilitating disease and western medical therapies.

Studies report over 90% of cancer patients in China are treated with herbal medicine.A large scale review of research by Australia and Chinese University scientists has proved with thousands of studies using hundreds of thousands of cancer patients that Chinese herbal medicine offers significant treatment for most types of cancers – including breast cancer.

The research comes from Australia’s University of Western Sydney and the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. The researchers analyzed and reviewed 2,964 human clinical studies that involved 253,434 cancer patients. Among these were 2,385 randomized controlled studies and 579 non-randomized controlled studies.

These studies covered most of the cancer types, but the cancers most studied were lung cancer, liver cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, colorectal cancer and nasopharyngeal (throat and sinus) cancer. Yes, breast cancer was the fourth most-studied type of cancer among these thousands of clinical studies.

The researchers discovered that the overwhelming majority of studies – 90% of the clinical studies – utilized herbal medicine. . . The researchers also found that only a few studies tested TCM acupuncture treatment in cancer therapy. In their discussion they qualified that acupuncture treatment in cancer therapy to alleviate pain is quite popular in the U.S., but in Chinese cancer studies, herbal medicine therapy is the leading type of holistic treatment for cancer.7

With regards to reviews of case series and case reports of TCM for cancer, individualized Chinese herbal medicine was the most frequently reported intervention.

Among the studies published in Chinese, herbal medicine is the main TCM intervention for cancer, comprising almost 90% in the total 2964 studies, which is also 7 times the number of acupuncture studies. This difference is much larger compared to a review based on English publications (acupuncture in 71 studies while Chinese herbal medicine in 11 studies),9 which might reflect policy and levels of use of herbal medicine in different countries as well as publication bias. 12

This study follows another extensive review of research published in 2012 on TCM cancer treatment. This study comes from Norway’s National Research Center in Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the University of Tromsø, Norway, also with collaboration with the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. This earlier study reviewed significantly fewer studies, compiling 716 trials that included 1,198 cancer patients with either leukemia, stomach cancer, liver cancer or esophageal cancer. Among these studies, 98.5% used herbal medicine, and again, acupuncture therapy was rare.

In yet another study – this one much larger than the second [Norwegian study] – 1,217 clinical studies between 1958 and 2011, involving 92,945 patients were analyzed and reviewed by researchers from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. Among these studies, 66% of the patients were treated with TCM therapy alone, while 34% of the patients were treated with a combination of TCM and conventional cancer therapy. Also, 82% of the patients were given herbal medicines orally.  Only 5% of the patients were given more than one type of TCM therapy. This means that 95% were treated with only one type of TCM therapy – typically with a precise combination of herbs.13

Studies show Chinese herbal medicine is highly effective treatment for cancer patients

The Li Xue et al . . . Review of Controlled Clinical Studies Published in Chinese Literature found Chinese herbal medicine remarkably effective for treating cancer patients.

. . . in a full 1,015 studies or 85% of those that reported on symptoms, TCM treatment resulted in improvement of cancer symptoms with many of those reporting reduced pain. Another 883 studies – 70% – showed increased survival rates. Another 38% showed reduced tumor size, and 28% showed increased quality of life. Another 19% showed lower relapse rates and another 7% showed reduced complications.8

We identified 292 studies involving 26,585 patients using TCM treatment for prevention of relapse/metastasis of cancer or other cancer related conditions. Compared to treatment interventions, TCM seems to have higher impact in the prevention of relapse and/or metastasis, hemorrhage, radiotherapy induced inflammation, radiation injury, chemo/radiotherapy induced nausea and/or vomiting or other gastrointestinal disorder, other chemotherapy included side effects, and other drug-induced side effects. This is consistent with previously identified role of TCM as complementary medicine adjuvant or postal to conventional treatment.6,7,9

Overall Recommendation of Treatments

Among the total 2964 studies, 756 (25.51%) studies recommended generalizing the treatment to the broader community based on treatment effectiveness. Commonly seen recommendations included: “this treatment method is very effective with good safety, and is very suitable for generalization in the clinical applications”.9

In the 2012 Liu J et al Norwegian . . .Review of case reports published in Chinese literature found, “symptom improvement was achieved in 85% of the patients that used the TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine]  therapy.”10

The 2011 Gouyang Yang et al  . . . Review of Case Series Published in the Chinese Literature
. . . found that among the studies treating cancer, symptom relief was the prominent result among 88% of the studies and among 88% of the patients tested with TCM therapy. Increased survival rates resulted in 73% of patients. Among all the rest of the studies, 96% of the trials resulted in symptom relief and 92% of the patients reported cancer symptom relief.11

A skilled herbalist is recommended here as cancer patients have a complex presentation. Customized herbal formulas are able to address the many nuances of the patient’s conditions, whereas prepared (patent) medicines are more broad spectrum.

IN HER OWN WORDS:A CANCER PATIENT’S EXPERIENCE WITH ACUPUNCTURE DURING CHEMO THERAPY

When I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, post surgical results dictated a regiment of chemotherapy and radiation.  After searching on-line for information about my particular treatment, I discovered that acupuncture was endorsed by some of the leading cancer center institutes, including Duke University, Mayo Clinic, and Sloan-Kettering, for reducing many chemotherapy side effects.  I then researched the Asheville area for acupuncturists who treated cancer and chemotherapy side effects.

Why I chose Kath Bartlett, MS, LAC

It did not take long for me to find a good one and enlist with the Kath Bartlett Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine practice.  With a scientific background, I was impressed with Kath’s resource website entry with studies, articles and useful blogs.  Her website and phone interview convinced me that this alternative medicine approach was a must try.

How acupuncture alleviated the side effects of chemotherapy

The treatments were amazing, both individualized and effective.  I combined them with prescribed vitamins, healthy dietary changes, exercise and meditation.  Kath also supported and continuously offered valuable advice in all these areas.  I believe that acupuncture helped to reduce many or perhaps even to eliminate some chemotherapy after effects.  After the first chemotherapy cocktail, I experienced many of the common uncomfortable side effects. I also suffered from chronic headaches.  After one session, my headache was gone.  In fact, while being treated, the headache retreated. Kath’s acupuncture treatments focused on lessening these side effects and I believe helped to alleviate the common symptoms of nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, constipation, diarrhea, restless sleep, muscle pain, chronic rhinitis or drippy nose, poor appetite, and peripheral neuropathy.  As a result, most of the remaining post-chemotherapy side effects were minimal or absent, or towards the end of accumulative treatments, were good relative to other outcomes.   Even though after each chemo session, as predicted, my energy level would continuously diminish, I believe that acupuncture helped me to feel better and to effectively get on with my life.  After reading studies and testimonials and after my own experience with the excellent treatment protocol of acupuncturist Kath Bartlett, I believe that acupuncture is an important approach to helping the body’s ability to fight cancer and to help restore the normal cells targeted for destruction by the potent chemotherapy.

With gratitude and appreciation,
G. A.-Asheville, NC

1  Yang G, Li X, Li X, Wang L, Li J, Song X, Chen J, Guo Y, Sun X, Wang S, Zhang Z, Zhou X, Liu J. Traditional Chinese medicine in cancer care: a review of case series published in the Chinese literature. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012;2012:751046.
2, 3, 10, 11  Li X, Yang G, Li X, Zhang Y, Yang J, Chang J, Sun X, Zhou X, Guo Y, Xu Y, Liu J, Bensoussan A. Traditional Chinese medicine in cancer care: a review of controlled clinical studies published in Chinese literature. PLoS One. 2013;8(4):e60338.
4, 6 Acupuncture before and during surgery reduces the need for powerful painkillers, News-Medical.net, 17Oct 2007.
5 Henry J. Duke Surgery Patients Benefit From Acupuncture During Anesthesia, WNCN 9Aug 2009.
7, 9, 8, 12, 13Adams, C. Can Chinese Herbal Medicine Treat Cancer? The Research Says Yes. GreenMedInfo.com. 17May2013.