Acupuncture for cancer Treatment
There is no evidence to show that acupuncture helps in any way with treating or curing cancer. But research suggests that it is helpful in relieving some symptoms of cancer or the side effects of cancer treatment. The main areas of research into acupuncture for cancer are chemotherapy related sickness, tiredness and cancer pain.
For any symptom where there is evidence that acupuncture may help, we need to compare it with standard treatment to get an overall view of how it can help alongside current conventional treatment options. Most studies show acupuncture to be better than no treatment and as good as, or better than, current standard treatment.
Here, you can read about research into acupuncture for symptoms of cancer or the side effects of treatment.
Recent research reviews have shown positive results for acupuncture in controlling pain. However, studies in people with cancer are often small and so it is more difficult to be sure of the results. In 2011 researchers carried out a review of trials looking at using acupuncture to control cancer pain. Due to problems with the trial designs they found that it was not possible to tell whether acupuncture helped. You can see the review of trials using acupuncture for cancer pain on the Cochrane Library website. A review in 2013 also found that it is not possible to tell whether acupuncture can reduce cancer pain. We need large, well designed studies so that we can find out.
Joint pain is a common side effect of a type of hormone treatment for breast cancer called aromatase inhibitors, which include anastrozole, exemestane and letrozole. Several small studies have shown that acupuncture can help to reduce joint pain and stiffness caused by these drugs.
Past and recent research has given us some information about acupuncture and acupressure for nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy (CINV).
Results from a recent study looking at acupressure to help relieve sickness due to chemotherapy found that overall acupressure did not help. The research team were able to analyse the results of 372 out of the 500 people who took part. Everyone who took part had standard care to relieve sickness. Some people also wore an acupressure wrist band or a dummy wrist band (placebo).
The people who wore a wrist band (acupressure or dummy band) felt less sick than those who didn't wear a wrist band. But the difference between the groups could have happened by chance and was not . When looking at how many people had been sick or felt anxious and how they rated their quality of life, the researchers found no difference between the groups. Although the researchers couldn't recommend the use of acupressure wrist bands to help with sickness after chemotherapy, they felt that some people may benefit from them. They recommended looking at this in other trials.
An earlier review of acupuncture trials in 2013 found that acupuncture can help to reduce nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy.
A UK study in 2007 in Manchester of 36 patients looked at whether acupressure bands (Sea bands) could reduce nausea and vomiting after chemotherapy. Patients in one group wore the wristbands for 5 days. In another group, patients did not wear the wristbands. Both groups took the usual anti sickness medicines. In the group wearing Sea bands patients had significantly less nausea, retching, and distress. A US study in 2007 of 160 women also found that acupressure wrist bands can help to reduce delayed nausea and vomiting due to breast cancer chemotherapy.
Several small studies have looked at acupuncture to try to reduce numbness, tingling and sensation changes in the hands and feet after chemotherapy treatment. These symptoms are known as peripheral neuropathy. Some studies seem to show very positive results but others do not.