Aside from skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common form of cancer for women in the United States. In 2009 (the most recent statistics available from the National Cancer Institute and CDC), 211,731 women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer. Biomedical treatments for all types of cancer are becoming more and more effective as more research is conducted and our knowledge of the behavior of cancers improves. However, many of these treatments are incredibly strong and toxic (out of necessity) and can cause many side-effects for patients. This is where modern acupuncture comes in – studies show that acupuncture can be beneficial in managing some of the side effects of breast cancer treatment and symptoms of the cancer.
A recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that acupuncture can reduce fatigue post-breast-cancer treatment. Subjects who received weekly acupuncture for 6 weeks fared better on every measure of fatigue than those who did not receive acupuncture.
Acupuncture has also been shown to control chemotherapy-related hot flashes, and lessen cancer-related pain. Acupuncture can also decrease nausea and reduce vomiting related to cancer treatment. One 2002 study found that acupuncture was more successful than anti-nausea medication Zofran at reducing post-op nausea in breast cancer patients.
There are important cautions to take when receiving acupuncture while being treated for breast cancer. After lymph nodes have been removed from the under arm, acupuncture needles should not be inserted in that arm to prevent risk of infection. You should also tell your acupuncturist all the drug treatments that you are receiving so that he or she can treat you effectively and safely. If you are taking blood thinners, acupuncture is still safe, but it is important that your acupuncturist knows that you are on these medications. Also, it is important that you tell your oncologist that you are receiving acupuncture. Usually, while on chemotherapy treatment, you should avoid taking Chinese Herbal Medicine so that the herbs do not throw off any drug efficacy. However, there are certain cases when the herbs can actually help with your biomedical treatment. Again, this is an instance when you should talk to both your acupuncturist and your oncologist to ensure the best and most comprehensive care possible.