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I was already being treated by a wonderful acupuncturist called Sally Oliver to help us get pregnant, so we made an appointment for Stu to go. For people with a history of cancer, acupuncture is a drug-free option to help control and improve side effects from chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. Studies have shown that acupuncture can help with pain, fatigue, insomnia, neuropathy, and nausea and so we added this step in and he had a treatment every week throughout the ten months.
There are lots of research papers supporting acupuncture in a clinical setting dating back over a decade yet we still aren't seeing it as standard practice in the UK. The Mayo Clinic in America has a department dedicated to integrative medicine. You can read more about it here.
So what is acupuncture?
Acupuncturists put very thin, sterile needles gently into the skin into energy channels called meridians to stimulate energy flow. Each meridian has many acupuncture points along its path - when stimulated in this way acupuncture can help to correct and rebalance physical, mental, spiritual and emotional energy.
Why use it for cancer patients?
Acupuncture is based on the theory that the placement of needles into certain points of the body unblocks and moves qi (vital energy) to strengthen and reduce physical and emotional symptoms. Research suggests that the needles stimulate the nervous system and the connective tissue in the body and help produce certain biomolecules such as hormones. Studies have shown that acupuncture can help with pain, fatigue, insomnia, neuropathy, and nausea.
What to expect?
At each consultation, Sally checked Stu's tongue and pulses, then she gently positioned sterile needles into points on his body. The needles were left in place for 20 minutes while he rested and were sometimes stimulated manually by twirling the needles or pushing them in and out. Sometimes he would feel a tingling feeling and described the sensation as a little firework going off (which is a good thing) but he felt no pain. With each appointment Sally could feel an improved pulse change and Stu always left feeling better and with a spring in his step. Occasionally Sally also implanted special needles called seeds/press needles, which can remain in place for several days.
What is the evidence?
The main areas of research into acupuncture for cancer are chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and it is included in clinical guidelines for dealing with side effects. Evidence suggests acupuncture may also reduce anxiety, fatigue, hot flushes and some types of pain.
National Library of Medicine research paper
Evidence based summaries about acupuncture in the oncology setting
British Acupuncture Council
How does Acupuncture work!? A podcast by Mel Hopper
The value of acupuncture in cancer care
What is acupuncture and why did we use it?
Within traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture has been a standard practice for thousands of years. In the last few decades people in western culture have been using it as an adjunctive treatment for many illnesses including cancer.
Recent medical research in the US has shown that acupuncture is a safe and effective supplemental treatment for people who experience certain symptoms of cancer. It can also help manage some side effects of treatment, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, and hormone therapy.
I'm not sure there is hindsight here because Stu started doing acupuncture right at the beginning and built up such a lovely rapport with Sally that she has become a lifelong friend now. I would advocate that finding a good acupuncturist that you gel with is important for any stage of life because the balance it brings is good.
Sally is a member of the British Acupuncture Council you can find a member near you using this link.
We highly recommend Sally if you are in the Gloucestershire area, here are her contact details: