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The ancient form of Chinese medicine called acupuncture uses a variety of techniques including:

  • Inserting needles in specific points on the body called acupoints
  • Moxibustion, which is the burning of the mugwort herb and allowing the smoke to penetrate the skin at acupoints
  • Cupping, which uses the technique of creating suction in a cup and then placing the cup on the patient’s body

Acupuncture is Recognized by Western Medicine as an Alternative Treatment

Acupuncture is classified as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) by Western doctors. That means it is used in conjunction with more traditional Western treatments in disease management.

It has been recognized as an effective therapy to aid in the activation of the immune system, and to decrease pain and help control treatment side effects. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved acupuncture needles as a medical device in 1996.

Acupuncture is Becoming Increasingly Used in the Treatment of Cancer Patients

Based on recent research, the most effective use of acupuncture in the treatment of cancer is as a method of alleviating symptoms caused by treatment. In fact, a recent study showed it to be more effective than traditional support care.

In an article titled “Is There a Role for Acupuncture in the Symptom Management of Patients Receiving Palliative Care for Cancer?”, pilot study of 20 patients comparing acupuncture with nurse-led supportive care, published online June 11, 2011 in Acupuncture in Medicine, researchers evaluated 20 cancer patients who were randomly assigned to receive weekly acupuncture or nurse-led supportive care for 4 weeks. The scientists measured the reduction in the level of symptoms through a scoring system known as the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS).

They found that total symptom scores were reduced by approximately 22 percent after each acupuncture visit and by 14 percent after each supportive care visit. They also discovered that in the two weeks after the acupuncture/supportive care was completed, the patients that received acupuncture continued to experience less severe symptoms.

Pharmacopuncture Studied in Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

There is a new needle therapy developed in Korea called pharmacopuncture that combines herbs with acupuncture. The acupuncturist injects a tiny amount of an herbal extract into the treatment area to make the acupuncture needling more effective.

In a study titled Case series of non-small cell lung cancer treated with mountain Ginseng pharmacopuncture, published March 2011 in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, researchers evaluated how the effectiveness of the herb mountain Ginseng is affected by the method that is used to introduce it into the body.

The study group was divided into:

  • Two patients who received a daily infusion of 20 milliliters of the herb into their veins
  • Two patients who received daily injections of 10 milliliters of the herb on the acupoint LU1
  • Two patients who received the herb using both methods

The researchers used CT scans after every 28- day cycle of therapy to evaluate the level of disease in each patient. Here is what they found:

  • The patients who received the infusion showed stable disease
  • The patients who received the injections showed progressive disease
  • The patients who received the herb through both methods showed stable disease during the infusion period and progressive disease during the injection period

The scientists concluded that mountain Ginseng was more effective when given as an infusion rather than as an injection into a single acupoint.

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