A recent client of mine here at the clinic – I will call her ‘Dawn’ — came to me with stage 4 rectal cancer that she had been living with for over a year. She reported that she had been through numerous rounds of chemo and radiation, and had been on a rotation of different medications to deal with pain in her rectum that she described to be ‘Like someone stuck a knife in and then twisted it’. Not pretty and not fun! The medications were barely touching it for her. Dawn was visiting, from afar, her family here in Vermont for a few weeks, and was almost debilitated by the pain. After hearing her story, I admit I did not have high hopes for relief with Acupuncture. I told her so; she chose to proceed with the treatment. After the second treatment, she said that she thought she was sleeping better. After the fifth treatment, she came in and was on the verge of crying as she thanked me for enabling her to enjoy the visit with her family in relative freedom from pain for what might be the last time as her prognosis was not good. This experience opened my eyes and I am grateful to be reminded of the effectiveness of Acupuncture in helping people dealing with pain related to cancer and symptoms related to the side effects of the related cancer therapies.
Many people have heard of the beneﬁts of Acupuncture in treating back pain or other sorts of pain, but it is less widely recognized that Acupuncture is a great supportive therapy in Cancer. Whether one is receiving radiation, undergoing chemotherapy, or has just had a surgical procedure such as a tumor removal or even a biopsy, Acupuncture can help, as a recent (2010) study by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center demonstrated. There is even evidence that suggests that getting Acupuncture previous to surgery or chemotherapy can be beneﬁcial in raising white blood cells counts and generally supportive for the immune system.
Acupuncture is a several thousand year old form of medicine that originated in China and has since spread to every part of the globe. It involves the insertion of very ﬁne, surgical quality, single use, solid ﬁliform needles at various sites throughout the body. Clients are sometimes surprised at the location of the needles as they may or may not coincide with the affected area. For instance needles may be inserted in to the outer side of the palm in order to treat someone’s neck pain.
One of the most common questions people ask about Acupuncture is “Does it hurt?” As with many things, the answer to that question is “It depends”. The stimulation one may experience upon the insertion of an Acupuncture needle varies from no sensation whatsoever to mild pressure to a warm spreading feeling to a mild electric shock to a pinching kind of pain that lasts a few seconds. The sensation can be equated to the experience of eating hot horseradish sauce (wasabi) in Japanese cuisine. At ﬁrst, there may be a spike in sensation, but it is very short lived (a few seconds) and it diminishes to nothing. Many people report a deep sense of relaxation after receiving Acupuncture. This relaxation is no accident and is a sign that the body is better able to do its job of healing whatever is at hand.
So, if you or someone you know is dealing with a recent Cancer diagnosis or is about to receive treatment, it may behoove you to mention to your doctor that you are considering doing some Acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy. The web address below directs you to the article published by Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on Various Cancers and Acupuncture : http://www.mskcc.org/news/announcement/acupuncture-helps-ease-side-effects-and-symptoms-some
In conclusion, Acupuncture can be an effective tool for pain, nausea, and other side effects of cancer treatment. Of course not all people will respond to the extent that ‘Dawn’ did, but the experience firmly established in me the fact that it is certainly worth a try.
Brett Avelin is a licensed acupuncturist at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic, at (802) 722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org, find us on facebook, and check out our blog: www.reformer802.com/journey2wellness.