Acupuncture is a treatment method that has shown promise in alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a widely used cancer treatment that involves the use of medication to destroy cancer cells. Although there are various types of chemotherapy drugs, they all function by inhibiting the reproduction of cancer cells, thereby impeding their growth and spread within the body.Unfortunately, chemotherapy can also harm healthy cells in the body, including blood cells, skin cells, nerve cells, and stomach cells. Consequently, patients often experience several side effects as a result of this treatment. Common side effects of chemotherapy drugs include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, hair loss, fatigue, fever, mouth sores, pain or numbness, constipation, easy bruising, and bleeding.
However, emerging research has revealed that acupuncture can effectively alleviate cancer pain and mitigate the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Studies have indicated that acupuncture may reduce the consumption of opioids following surgery and, consequently, minimize opioid-related side effects. A systematic review demonstrated that patients who received acupuncture during various surgeries, particularly abdominal surgeries, required significantly fewer analgesics compared to those in the sham placebo group.
Moreover, acupuncture has shown promise in reducing postoperative and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Many individuals undergoing chemotherapy experience neuropathic symptoms, which arise as a result of the neurotoxic nature of certain chemotherapy drugs. Although chemotherapy-induced neuropathy is typically reversible, it can take months or even years to fully recover. In fact, up to 76% of patients have reported experiencing neuropathic symptoms after undergoing chemotherapy.
To evaluate the therapeutic effect of acupuncture on chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, a pilot non-randomized controlled trial was conducted. The study involved six patients who received acupuncture treatment for 10 weeks, and changes in nerve conduction studies were measured. The results indicated that at the three-month follow-up after acupuncture treatment, five out of six patients demonstrated improvement in nerve conduction studies, whereas only one out of five patients in the control group showed improvement.
Additionally, acupuncture has shown potential in relieving chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), which is characterized by neuropathic pain. CIPN commonly manifests as tingling, burning, or pricking sensations in the hands, arms, legs, or feet, although it can affect other parts of the body as well. Patients with CIPN may also experience sensitivity to pain, decreased physical activity, and motor symptoms, such as dropping items and difficulty performing daily activities.
In recent years, acupuncture has gained attention for its noninvasive nature and safety. It has been widely used in the treatment of diabetes-related neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, and CIPN. A recent study analyzed the effects of acupuncture using data from six high-quality randomized control trials involving 386 cancer patients. The findings indicated that acupuncture significantly improved pain scores and effectively relieved CIPN pain and functional limitations.
In conclusion, acupuncture has emerged as a potential adjunctive therapy for managing the side effects of chemotherapy. Its noninvasive nature and demonstrated effectiveness in alleviating pain and other symptoms make it a promising option for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Tsai-Ju Chien, et al Integr Cancer Ther. 2019; 18: 1534735419886662.