(Note: This article is scheduled to appear in the October edition of Your Health magazine)
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy provided by contemporary western medicine are constantly evolving to improve cancer patient outcomes. The side effects of these treatments, however, can be problematic. The most common ones include nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, hot flashes, and fatigue. Acupuncture, the world’s oldest form of continually practiced medicine, can help mitigate these side effects of cancer treatments. Often, acupuncture is able to relieve symptoms to the extent that additional medications are not needed, or are needed in smaller amounts.
From the point of Chinese Medicine, chemo and radiation therapies introduce a great deal of heat into the body, creating a significant internal imbalance. If we understand this, the side effects listed above are not surprising. Heat moves energy up, hence the difficulty in swallowing and keeping food down. Heat is very drying, impacting the production of saliva and drying out other mucous membranes. The blast of heat accompanying chemotherapy and radiation strain the body’s normal mechanisms of temperature regulation, resulting in hot flashes, sweating, and cold or hot extremities. Finally, just as an excessively hot summer day can feel draining, so can this additional induced heat sap the body’s energy, resulting in fatigue.
There are very few research studies available on the application of acupuncture to alleviate the side effects of cancer treatments. The good news is that those that do exist have found acupuncture to be very helpful (with the exception of chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy). The even better news is that most studies, whether published in China, Great Britain, or the United States, cite the same small number of acupuncture points as being effective. These points can be easily located by non-acupuncturists, allowing friends and family members to provide relief to their loved one through the application of gentle massage or pressure to the points.
We are very fortunate to live in a place and time where so many different medical models and systems are available. The marriage of contemporary western based cancer treatments with the ancient system of Chinese Medicine for maintaining homeostasis offers a unique and efficacious way to improve the health and quality of life for those facing the challenges of cancer diagnosis and treatment.