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Acupuncture and supporting life after cancer

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

I have just returned from the British Acupuncture Council conference, where I was able to attend a lecture given by Beverley De Valois, a fascinating and well-respected acupuncturist in the field of oncology, who provides support for cancer patients and survivors.

It is an area where I want to be able to support more people and I wanted to learn, from the best, in that field.

Today's blog is going to look at:

I hope you find this blog useful, but as always please message me if you have any questions.

Love Andrea

Mobile acupuncturist, Hertfordshire


Navigating life after cancer treatment

Navigating the pathway of cancer should be enough. Diagnosis and through to treatment you are on a treadmill of appointments and treatments.

Some people, might leave cancer treatment, as cancer survivors and go back to their normal life as if the interruption did not exist.

For some cancer diagnosis and treatment were just the start of their new "normal". Feelings of anger, guilt, shame, fear, worry etc may exist long after your last appointment. And a myriad of physical symptoms may arise as a consequence of treatment.

There is no denying that treatment will have saved or prolonged life. A "blessing" (but let us look at toxic positivity shortly).

So what happens when we finish chemotherapy, surgery, or radiotherapy, or hormone therapy? Is the treatment then finished? Are we "healthy"?

For some, it may be. For others, this may not be the case. You may have lived through cancer to find that you might have physical consequences such as:

  • hot flushes

  • peripheral neuropathy

  • pain

  • fatigue

  • lymphoedema

You might have these alone, or they may exist in clusters or have mental-emotional consequences as well such as:

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • hyper-vigilance

The rule of thumb, of your oncology team, is that these consequences may last about a year after you finish treatment.

So, how do you navigate that time from finishing your treatment but finding you are not maybe "well"? You are fatigued easily, but the insomnia is never ending and the pain is a constant reminder.

And once you have finished treatment, does life resume as "normal"? Do you feel able to return to work? Can you resume your normal day-to-day activities, and be a present family member or friend?

Are you able to express a sense of unfairness or anger? What if you do not feel particularly blessed?


How acupuncture might support you after cancer treatment

Acupuncture cannot treat your cancer. But can it help with supporting you during and after treatment has finished?

Why acupuncture is beneficial:

1. Acupuncture is considered an acceptable form of treatment by oncology teams,

2. Allopathic medicine has very little available to support the consequences of treatment e.g. fatigue, dry mouth, pain, hot flushes.

3. The studies around acupuncture and cancer are vast with strong evidence of its importance in supporting cancer patients with a variety of consequences. More on this, in one moment.

4. Randomised controlled-trials of acupuncture vs pharmacological interventions in cancer show

a) acupuncture provides a sustainable effect, even when treatment has stopped

b) there is a low risk of serious adverse effects

5. Acupuncture can treat multiple symptoms simultaneously. For example, acupuncture can work with your anxiety, fatigue, pain and hot flushes. Or it can work with peripheral neuropathy and insomnia. Or depression and nausea.

6. And these consequences we can work with can be both physical and emotional.


The evidence for acupuncture and cancer

I am an evidence-based acupuncturist and I work with evidence-based medicine. There are almost 15,000 studies of acupuncture and I will always discuss evidenced based-efficacy in my work.

Let us get started with studies, which have been published in 2022, on acupuncture and cancer-related consequences

Acupuncture for cancer pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline

In February 2022 this evidence-based guideline convincingly showed that acupuncture can relieve pain in moderate to severe cancer pain.

They also made a strong recommendation for acupuncture for breast-cancer survivors to relieve their aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgia.

No serious treatment-related adverse events were observed.

Acupuncture improves chemotherapy-induced neuropathy

In September 2022 a prospective, controlled, randomized, two-armed, single-centre study with a cross-over design showed that

acupuncture significantly improves sensory NCS (Nerve conduction studies), as well as clinical findings and PROMs (Patient-reported outcome measures) in CIPN (Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy) after 10 treatments, suggesting structural neuroregeneration. These findings indicate that acupuncture can be a treatment option for patients suffering from CIPN (Chemotherapy-induced neuropathy).

Acupuncture in the real world: evaluating a 15‑year NADA auricular acupuncture service for breast cancer survivors experiencing hot flushes and night sweats as a consequence of adjuvant hormonal therapies

In this 15 year of clinical insights of using the NADA protocol, they found that in 300 women that

  • frequency of hot flushes and night sweats reduced from 7.56 (out of 10), to 5.42 at the end of 8 weeks of treatment

  • this reduction continued to 4 weeks post end of treatment to 4.90

  • there was a slight increase to 5.18 at 18 weeks post end of treatment

Acupuncture Versus Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia in Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Clinical Trial

This 2019 study for acupuncture for insomnia in cancer survivors found:

  • Both acupuncture and CBT-I produced clinically meaningful reductions in insomnia severity

  • Both acupuncture and CBT-I maintained improvements up to 20 weeks.

  • Acupuncture was more effective for pain at the end of treatment;

  • Both groups had similar improvements in fatigue, mood, and quality of life and reduced prescription hypnotic medication use.

  • CBT-I was more effective for those who were male, white, highly educated, and had no pain at baseline.

Acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue in lung cancer patients: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot trial

In this very small randomized, double-blind study of 28 people, they found that:

  • There was a significant reduction in the BFI-C (Brief Fatigue Inventory) score observed at 2 weeks in the 14 participants who received active acupuncture compared with those receiving the placebo

  • At week 6, symptoms further improved according to the BFI-C and the FACT-LCS (Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Lung Cancer Subscale)


Acupuncture alleviating mental-emotional consequences

I have written separately about anxiety. Everyone will experience symptoms individual to them and their experience and it is a vast and interesting topic.

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