Acupuncture is a mind-body medicine practice that has been used in China for thousands of years. It is now making its way into mainstream medicine and cancer care in the United States. Acupuncture involves placing small, thin, metallic needles at specific locations on the body, just penetrating skin. The locations, called acupoints, lie in pathways along the body called meridians.
In Chinese philosophy, energy flows along the meridians. The energy is called “qi” and pronounced “chee.” Acupuncture enables the flow of qi along the meridians and keeps the body’s opposing forces, yin and yang, in balance. In Western medicine, the theory is that the stimulation of acupoints affects the nervous system and causes the release of very specific chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters affect the nervous system, organs in the body, the immune system, and the body’s response to stress, leading to the benefits of acupuncture.
Acupuncture has been shown in clinical trials to be helpful in controlling post-operative pain and chronic pain, including back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, shoulder pain, and chronic headache. Many use it for stress and fatigue. For persons living with cancer, acupuncture has been shown to decrease chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting.
Research is underway to test the benefits of acupuncture for dry mouth in persons who have received radiation therapy for throat cancer and for muscle aches and pains in breast cancer survivors taking medicine that lowers estrogen levels in the body. When performed properly, acupuncture is remarkably safe and pain free. Excellent information about how acupuncture works can be found at the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website.
Acupuncture and participation in clinical trials testing the benefits of acupuncture are available at GHS’ Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship. For more information, call (864) 455-1346.
Dr. Mark O’Rourke is a medical oncologist and medical director of GHS’ Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship.