Acupuncture

Acupuncture is one of the oldest healing practices in the world that is still in use today to alleviate pain and suffering while promoting health and healing. This therapy has been used in China and other Asian countries as a component of the whole healing system known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for over three thousand years.

Acupuncture treatments involve the use of very fine needles placed at specific points along the body. They are often manipulated by practioner’s hands or by electrical stimulation.

Acupuncture is just one treatment modality used by practitioners of Tradi onal Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM practitioners believe that the body is comprised of energy, Qi (pronounced “Chee”) and that this energy flows along channels in the body called meridians. Stagnations or blockages in the flow of Qi result in physical symptoms or dysfunction in various body systems. The placement of the needles helps to restore and maintain the proper flow of Qi throughout the body. The goal of acupuncture is to restore the harmonious flow of energy and optimal interaction of body functions and systems.

Why should I use acupuncture?

There are increasing numbers of published studies that support the use of acupuncture for many of the symptoms commonly experienced by cancer survivors. Acupuncture can help cancer survivors cope with:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Overall quality of life
  • Hot flashes associated with oral chemotherapy agents

In addition to symptoms associated with cancer, research suggests that acupuncture can be successfully used for a broad range of conditions including:

  • Musculoskeletal pain and trauma
  • Headaches, particularly recurrent migraines,
  • Temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction
  • Repetitive strain injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome.

How does acupuncture work?

Although biomedical researchers have yet to understand exactly how TCM works, scientific studies have observed that the stimulation of acupuncture points causes specific physiological responses including changes in brain activity, hormone levels, blood pressure, heart rate, and the immune system. 

TCM practitioners believe that vital energy Qi blockages can result in major disturbances in the physical body, just as a blood clot will causes problems in the circulatory system. By placing needles at critical points along the energy meridians, acupuncturists attempt to restore the natural flow of Qi. As the natural flow is re-established, body systems begin to interact and communicate properly, function more normally, negative physical symptoms improve, and the person can heal.

Is acupuncture right for me?

The first visit to an acupuncturist usually lasts about 1½ hours. Follow-up visits may be shorter, approximately 40 minutes to an hour. You will asked to lie on a table although in some chemotherapy infusion centers, acupuncture is administered while sitting in a chair and during other types of treatments. While some people report immediate changes and improvement in their condition, most people require one to two visits per week for the first month. As the condition improves, less frequent visits are needed. 

The cost of the longer first visit ranges from around $75 to $95. Acupuncturists commonly charge a lower rate for follow-up visits, averaging around $50 to $70. Your insurance plan may cover acupuncture treatments, particularly if you are seeing a medical acupuncturist (see next section). If you must pay for the treatment yourself, check to see if there is a school of acupuncture in your area which often offer treatments at a reduced rate. 

The literature notes that acupuncture is relatively safe for all ages. Complications are rare but include mild bruising, pain, or bleeding at the needle insertion site. Acupuncture should always be used cautiously if you:

  • have certain bleeding disorders
  • are pregnant
  • have extremely low blood pressure
  • have extreme anxiety associated with needles.

How do I choose an acupuncture provider?

Acupuncturists are licensed by each state. In addition, acupuncturists can obtain national certification. These credentials assure that your acupuncturist is trained in the safe and hygienic use of needles and can legally practice. There are an estimated 27,000 licensed or certified acupuncturists currently practicing in the U.S. There are two types of acupuncturists in the U.S: those trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine and those trained in western medical acupuncture. 

Licensed acupuncturists (L.Ac.) are the most common type of therapist. In order to be licensed in most states (43 of 50, including Arizona), LAcs are required to:

  • Complete a 3 to 4 year master´s program (2,600 - 4,000 hours) at an accredited school of acupuncture
  • Pass a national exam sponsored by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. To find a nationally certified acupuncturist, visit the NCCAOM at http://www.nccaom.org

Medical acupuncturists are physicians, MD's or DO's, from the US or Canada who are trained (150 - 300 hours training) to do Medical Acupuncture; they integrate acupuncture into conventional medical practice. These acupuncturists are licensed to practice in their state and then are nationally certified in acupuncture by American Board of Acupuncture (ABMA). Because they are physicians, many health insurance plans will reimburse for their services. To find a list of ABMA certified medical acupuncturists visit http://www.dabma.org/physicians.asp

In southern Arizona, you can also find an acupuncturist by visiting the Community Cancer Connection Integrative Therapy Provider Directory

How do I talk to my healthcare provider about using acupuncture?

As acupuncture continues to become more popular, healthcare providers are increasingly open to sending patients for this treatment. In fact, acupuncture is often offered to patients in cancer centers and community cancer providers across the U.S. Therefore, talking to your provider about alternative ways to address your symptoms is always a good idea. 

If you do decide to use acupuncture, write down any changes you notice in your symptoms or overall health and well-being during the course of your acupuncture treatments. You can do this by keeping a daily symptom log or journal. Bring this with you to any visits with your healthcare provider. 

Licensed acupuncturists may recommend certain herbs. It is very important to discuss any recommended herbs with your current healthcare provider or oncologist before you take anything new, especially herbs that are prepared by acupuncturists in their office.

Have others with cancer used acupuncture?

A 2006 survey by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found more than 3.1 million adults and 150,000 children in the US used acupuncture. Cancer patients using acupuncture have stated:

  • "My family saw a change in me. When the hot flashes started to lessen during acupuncture treatment, I went back to work again".
  • "I had been diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer and was in my second month of weekly chemotherapy infusion. I couldn't take it anymore and needed help. I had never tried acupuncture before, but knew that I needed support if I was going to make it through the cancer treatments. I still recall how thrilled I was after my first treatment–to finally feel relief from the side-effects but also to have a renewed hope that I really was going to be ok".
  • "When I was given my breast cancer diagnosis, I was surprised, frightened and I quickly found myself feeling very sorry for myself. Though reluctant at first, I am so happy I decided to try acupuncture. Each time I would leave the clinic I would feel calmer, more relaxed and better prepared to face my next cancer challenge".
  • "Acupuncture successfully treated symptoms I experienced from chemotherapy, so I didn't have to use as many prescription drugs. Acupuncture was particularly effective in stabilizing my digestive system. Acupuncture also addressed the various aches and pains that come with cancer treatment and gave me some tools to address issues in between treatments. I felt like I was actually doing something to help myself get well and slowly gained confidence from knowing the rest of my body was healthy and could participate in the battle against cancer".

What is acupuncture like?

If you are interested in acupuncture but would like to see a session before you try it yourself, we invite you to watch a video featuring Ms. Marcy B. Newman, MS, RN, DOM, LAc, MPH, RDH.

Where can I learn more about acupuncture?

 

Contributors: 
Brian Moreaux, BS , Doctor of Osteopathy Medical Student , Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences
Expert Reviewers: 
Mary Koithan, PhD, RN, CNS-BC , Program Director and Associate Professor , UA College of Nursing
Cheryl Wright, PhD, MTOM, RN, FNP-BC, L.Ac.
Alex Holland, M.Ac., L.Ac. , President , Han University of Traditional Medicine