Integrative Oncology is the synthesis of mainstream care and non-pharmacologic, evidence-based complementary therapies for the control of cancer-related physical and emotional symptoms.
Oncology acupuncture is a new and emerging field of research. Recent advances from published clinical trials have added evidence to support the use of acupuncture for symptom management in cancer patients.
Acupuncture is defined as the insertion of one or several needles into the skin at particular sites (acupuncture points) for therapeutic purposes. Variations of this theme include the use of other means of stimulating acupuncture points: heat (moxisbution), pressure (acupressure),
electrical currents (electroacupuncture), or laser light (laser acupuncture).
Acupuncture's use in cancer patients has been recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS) for the treatment of cancer and treatment-related symptoms. Pain, nausea, breathlessness, vasomotor symptoms and limb edema have all been found to respond to acupuncture.
Acupuncture can also act against carcinogens (factors attributable to cancer development) through its ability to reduce stress and enhance immune function. Today several cancer centers have begun incorporating acupuncture for treating cancer-related symptoms such as pain and many patients have had significant results in the reduction of their symptoms. It may cause physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain. These responses can cause the body to release proteins, hormones, and brain chemicals that control a number of body functions. It is proposed that in this way, acupuncture affects blood pressure and body temperature, boosts immune system activity, and causes the body's natural painkillers, such as endorphins to be released.
For conditions where the cancer is detected early, acupuncture can maintain and promote the normal functioning of the body. Several studies have shown its ability to boost the immune system and encourage the growth of healthy functioning cells. This could be important for
counteracting the result of radiation and chemotherapy that tend to attack both normal and abnormal cells. An additional benefit of acupuncture is that it can induce a state of deep calm and relaxation and alleviate physical and emotional tensions.
It is now routinely administered before, after and in between chemotherapy treatment sessions for control of nausea and emesis. Use of acupuncture helps in minimizing the use of standard, expensive multi-drug anti-nausea regimens with their attendant side effects for chemotherapy patients.
Chronic disease process depletes the energy level in the organism. Acupuncture replenishes energy levels to the body and the diseased organs or part of the body. It also reestablishes homeostasis by re-balancing energy distribution and un-blocking energy flow. The acupuncture can provide a more durable, successful pain control and provide a sense of well being and increased energy to cancer sufferers, decreasing the malaise associated with any chronic diseases. Also useful in managing cancer-related pain.
The use of acupuncture can reduce the need for narcotic drugs. This also means that acupuncture will minimize the side effects such as confusion, disturbed mentation, behavioral changes, nausea and severe constipation, the normal result of taking narcotics.
The FDA approved acupuncture needles for use by licensed practitioners in 1996. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that sterile, nontoxic needles be used and that they be labeled for single use by qualified practitioners only.
Acupuncture is often used as an adjunctive therapy in anesthesia, in post-operative pain control, and in aiding and hastening recovery from the side effects of the various therapies. Acupuncture is effective for control of pain, of local swelling post-operatively, for shortening the resolution of hematoma and tissue swelling and for minimizing use of medications and their attendant side effects.
Recent new developments for which it is felt essential as a modality of treatment includes-
- Pain and dysfunction after neck dissection
- Radiation-induced xerostomia in head and neck cancer
- Aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgia in breast cancer
- Hot flashes in breast cancer and prostate cancer
- Chemotherapy-induced neutropenia in ovarian cancer.
Some acupuncture techniques include the following:
A procedure in which pulses of weak electrical current are sent through acupuncture needles into acupoints in the skin.
acupuncture: The placing of acupuncture needles in a place on the skin that is away from the painful part of the body. Trigger points
have to do with referred pain, pain that is not felt at the site of injury, but is sent along nerves and felt elsewhere in the body.
The use of a weak laser beam instead of an acupuncture needle to stimulate an acupoint.
The use of a syringe and needle to inject drugs, vitamins, herbal extracts, or other fluids into the body at an acupoint.
The use of a microwave device attached to an acupuncture needle to deliver microwave radiation to an acupoint.
A type of massage therapy in which the fingers are used to press on an acupoint. In cancer patients, acupressure has been used to control symptoms such as pain or nausea and vomiting.
A type of heat therapy in which an herb is burned above the body to warm a meridian at an acupoint and increase the flow of blood and qi. The herb may be placed directly on the skin, held close to the skin for several minutes, or placed on the tip of an acupuncture needle.
A procedure in which a rounded glass cup is warmed and placed upside down over an area of the body, making a vacuum that holds the cup to the skin. Cupping is used to increase the flow of blood and qi. It is believed to open up the skin’s pores and allow toxins to leave the body.
There have been few complications reported. Problems are caused by using needles that are not sterile (free of germs) and from placing the needle in the wrong place, movement of the patient, or a defect in the needle.
Problems include soreness and pain during treatment. Feeling tired, lightheaded, or sleepy; and infections. Because chemotherapy and radiation therapy weaken the body's immune system, a strict clean needle method must be used when acupuncture treatment is given to cancer patients. It is important to seek treatment from a qualified acupuncture practitioner who uses a new set of disposable (single-use) needles for each patient.