Acupuncture Back in the News

A few years ago, we discussed a number of alternative therapies for cancer patients. Exercise, spiritual therapies, and acupuncture were among them. This month, acupuncture made big headlines in the Huffington Post, Time Magazine, and the New York Times for the role it plays in treating everything from hay fever to cancer. Further, several acupuncture study updates indicate that many research studies have been extended through 2014 or beyond. This is promising news for cancer patients and specialists that rely on acupuncture to assist in alleviating the side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation, *breathlessness, and other symptoms.

Acupuncture is a component of one of four effective CAM (Cancer Complementary Alternative Medicine) modalities including (1) the ingestion of substances orally (e.g., herbal therapy, homeopathy), (2) the use of a minimally invasive procedure (e.g., acupuncture), (3) the manipulation of “subtle” or energies not detected by
normative sciences (e.g., Reiki, therapeutic touch, spiritual healing), and (4) the physical
manipulation of the patient’s anatomy (e.g., chiropractic, massage).

Although it can be traced back to China more than 4000 years, acupuncture has been used in the U.S. for around 200 years. Serious research on acupuncture did not begin in the U.S. until 1976. However, within 20 years, the FDA approved the acupuncture needle as a “medical device” to be used by licensed practitioners only. Today, with a stamp of approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the acupuncture needle assists in the control of symptoms associated with cancer and treatment.

According to the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NCI NIH), along with traditional treatments, acupuncture may help control anxiety, constipation, diarrhea, depression, dry mouth, fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia, nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, nerve problems, pain, poor appetite, and weight loss. The success of acupuncture treatment depends on many factors such as the type of combination therapy, the type of cancer, stage, overall health, acupuncture technique, and more. The most familiar technique involves the use of thin, disposable, stainless steel needles, described as “slightly thicker than a human hair,” at certain acupoints throughout the body.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), acupoints are described as places where meridians (channels) come to the surface of the body. Once the practitioner determines which acupoints should be targeted, the needles are inserted at each point and may be heated, twirled, charged with an enervated electric current, or manipulated at varying speeds and depths. According to TCM, there are more than 2,000 acupoints on the human body, with specific acupoints for each condition being treated.

Although acupuncture is considered painless, the thought of needles, even thin ones, may cause anxiety in some patients. The good news for these individuals is needless are not used in a number of other techniques such as acupressure (type of massage therapy), laser acupuncture (laser beam replaces needles), cupping (warm cups replace needles) and moxibustion (uses heat instead of needles).

Regarding the latest studies discussed earlier, one study, conducted by Dr. Mary O’Brien of the Royal Marsden Hospital (UK), focuses on the value of acupuncture and combined acupuncture and morphine interventions in treating non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma patients with dyspnoea. The primary outcome is to investigate the effectiveness of acupuncture for relief of *breathlessness in lung cancer. Secondary outcomes include:

1. Measures of anxiety, relaxation, other subjective variables (Lar scales)
2. Respiratory rate and lung function tests (Forced Expiratory Volume [FEV], Partial Expiratory Flow Rate [PEFR])
3. Hospital Anxiety and Depression (HAD) Scale
4. Quality of Life (QOL) changes between baseline and seven days

As of January 28, 2013, the target number of participants for the UK study increased from 114 to 174 and the anticipated end date was updated from December 31, 2011 to January 31, 2014. If you would like to monitor the study, updates are available to the public.

Public Title: A randomized study of the value of acupuncture in treating non-small cell lung cancer and mesothelioma patients with dyspnoea
Contact: Dr. Mary O’Brien of the Royal Marsden Hospital (UK)