Tremendous progress has been achieved over the last few decades in the treatment of cancer. Malignancy results from the uncontrolled division of abnormal cells, leading to tumors or other dysfunction in the body often incompatible with life. It is an incredibly complex field of medicine and medical research, affecting the lives of millions of people in America and around the world.
Even within one organ or tissue, such as the breast or the lung, different kinds of cancer can develop, each with different treatment approaches and prognoses. Genetics often play a role as does exposure to carcinogenic chemicals and radiation. Sometimes, malignancies develop for no discernible reason.
Reducing the risk of developing cancer
While we all should carefully consider our lifestyle choices to reduce our risk of developing cancer, especially smoking and the absorption of industrial chemicals through food, water, air or skin care products, this strategy will lower our risk but not eliminate it entirely.
Certain cancers are also more treatable and have more favorable prognoses if they are detected early, so screenings are important to improve the likelihood of remission, esp. with cancers of the breast, skin and bowel. Research in this area can help you decide which screenings are appropriate, and guidelines by private and public health organizations can inform your decisions. As screening and treatment options continue to improve, these guidelines will also be updated periodically.
Treatment protocols for many cancers are nowadays rather sophisticated and can slow down the progression of growth or arrest it altogether, resulting in remission of a cancer. And even though these protocols are becoming more and more targeted, they still cause severe and uncomfortable side-effects in many people undergoing cancer therapy. Some may lead to nerve or organ damage, impair the immune system, or even increase the risk of other cancers.
Side-effects of cancer treatments
One challenge for oncologists and their patients is that many cannot tolerate these side-effects and are unable to complete their treatment. Additional medications, especially for nausea or hot flashes, are often provided, each with their own set of potential side-effects. Some people have to ride quite a roller coaster that impacts their quality of life profoundly. Patients and their healthcare providers are looking for better options.
Fortunately, there are now several options available for people undergoing cancer therapy or recovering from it to alleviate side-effects of their cancer treatment or to restore function and wellbeing afterwards. One of the most interesting and appealing options is acupuncture. Publicly and privately funded clinical research in the US and other industrialized countries has established the usefulness and safety of acupuncture as an adjuvant therapy for cancer patients. While it is not usually recommended as a primary treatment, it can also play an important role in palliative care.
Acupuncture relieves side-effects of treatment
Acupuncture can relieve the following side-effects of cancer treatment: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, indigestion, pain, hot flashes, lymphedema, fatigue, depression, and insomnia. The NIH’s National Cancer Institute provides information for patients and physicians about the latest research evidence. A search on PubMed will also yield many useful studies and review articles. The length of a treatment course depends on a range of factors, but weekly visits for at least eight to twelve weeks are commonly recommended. Some cancer centers now offer acupuncture in-house, but licensed acupuncturists in private practice may also have additional expertise to provide excellent care. Certainly, convenience and cost are important considerations for many patients, but multiple insurance plans now reimburse the cost of acupuncture in connection with the treatment for cancer. It’s worth finding out.
Most of my patients undergoing treatment for cancer find their acupuncture visits very helpful. They often experience less nausea and vomiting, reduced neuropathy, improved appetite, energy and sleep. Some report that it helps restore their libido, which should not be discounted because it really improves quality of life for many patients. Large studies have firmly established that the risk of side-effects of the acupuncture intervention itself is minimal. A licensed acupuncturist experienced in working with cancer patients will take additional precautions to protect your immune system and help you recover.
Acupuncture and other natural therapies may enable you to derive maximum benefit from your conventional chemo-, immuno- or radiation therapy or surgery and recover faster.
© 2019 Christiane Siebert