It is estimated that 40% of Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that survival rates are improving thanks to improvements in cancer screening and cancer treatment. Cancer is not a death sentence, but it is a life-changing experience.
There are 3 main types of cancer treatment: primary treatment, adjuvant therapy, and palliative care. The goal of primary treatment is to remove the cancer from the body or kill the cancer cells, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. The goal of adjuvant therapy is to kill any cancer cells that may remain after primary treatment, common therapies include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. The goal of palliative care is to decrease pain and help maintain quality of life during and after cancer treatment, by relieving the side effects of both the cancer and its treatment. Acupuncture in the treatment of cancer falls into the category of palliative care.
Acupuncture can be an effective complementary therapy when used with conventional cancer treatments. The purpose of acupuncture treatments is not to treat the cancer itself but rather to help a person cope with cancer, its treatment or side effects, and to feel better. There are many general symptoms associated cancer, including fatigue, digestive problems, and pain. Cancer treatments also create symptoms- chemotherapy and radiation are very powerful treatments that target cancer cells but can also damage healthy cells in the body and weaken the immune system, and can leave a person with symptoms of fatigue, nausea, vomiting, gastrointestinal disturbances, and skin irritation. For many people dealing with cancer treatment, there is a need to manage these symptoms, keep the body and the spirits strong, and maintain quality of life.
Acupuncture can be a very useful tool in this regard. Studies have shown that acupuncture can be effective in the treatment of many cancer symptoms including generalized pain, muscle and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and can help to boost the immune system. Because chemotherapy and radiation can be very hard on the immune system and because the body may already be weakened from the cancer, strengthening the immune system and the body with acupuncture can help a person undergoing cancer treatments to experience fewer negative symptoms and to bounce back more quickly from a course of treatments, something that is very important in the recovery process.
In addition, the pain associated with cancer can be an extremely difficult part of a patient’s experience, and acupuncture thankfully can effectively help to relieve this pain and relieve a great deal of the day-to-day discomfort. Fatigue and depression are also common symptoms that respond positively to acupuncture, allowing a person to function better, have a better quality of life, and better maintain a healthy routine while undergoing cancer treatments. By relieving nausea and digestive upset, acupuncture can also help to restore appetite and prevent weight loss that often occurs during cancer treatments.
To benefit from acupuncture during cancer treatment, it is recommended to schedule regular appointments during the course of cancer treatments while symptoms are being experienced. Typically treatments will be scheduled on a weekly basis in order to keep symptoms in check and strengthen the body. Acupuncture can also be used between courses of chemotherapy or radiation treatment to build the immune system, aid the body in recovery and strengthen it in preparation for the next course of treatment. All in all, acupuncture is a very powerful tool in the treatment of cancer and can dramatically improve quality of life.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna. He can be reached at www.okanaganacupuncture.com.