Acupuncture for Mesothelioma
The use of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments is becoming more popular. CAM practices from Traditional Chinese Medicine are among some of the most popular and many of them have been used for a thousand years or more. Modern researchers have investigated some of these and found that they have a place in the treatment of cancer.
Acupuncture is among the most common of all CAM treatments, especially with mesothelioma and other types of cancer patients. It has been researched extensively, and while there is no evidence that acupuncture can treat the cancer itself, there is ample proof that it can help alleviate symptoms. When combined with treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, there is evidence that acupuncture can help patients feel better and experience a better quality of life.
What is Acupuncture?
The practice of acupuncture is important in Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been used since ancient times. According to tradition and to practitioners, acupuncture balances the life force or energy that is in all of us. This energy is called qi, and is thought to flow through the body along lines or paths called meridians. The practice of acupuncture is supposed to help qi flow correctly to rebalance it after it has become unbalanced.
This is achieved by inserting very thin needles into the skin at pressure points along the meridians. In western medicine it is thought that rather than balancing a life force, that these insertions stimulate nerves, connective tissues, and muscles to help stimulate chemicals in the body and blood flow. The result is pain relief. Pain is the most common symptom treated with acupuncture. In addition to the small needles, acupuncture may be practiced with pressure from fingers, like massage, or with electrical stimulation.
Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment
As CAM becomes more popular with patients, health care centers, hospitals, and doctors are becoming more welcoming of these practices being used along with traditional medicine. Some treatment facilities for cancer and mesothelioma may even have acupuncture practitioners on staff or can recommend qualified practitioners. It is important to remember that acupuncture is not a cure for cancer or a replacement for other treatments, and no professional practitioner would claim that it is. If you are going to try acupuncture, be sure to tell your doctors and get a recommendation for a qualified and reputable practitioner. If you do, you could experience some of the benefits of symptom relief.
The National Institutes of Health has been investigating acupuncture as a valid CAM strategy since 1997. These studies along with those of other scientists have proven that acupuncture has some real and proven benefits. One of these is the ability to reduce pain. With mesothelioma you may experience pain from the tumors and from the treatments you are undergoing, but research says acupuncture can help.
One study found that when cancer patients were given acupuncture treatments, most were able to either stop using pain medication or reduce the amount they took. Overall, most studies that look at pain reduction through acupuncture conclude that it most likely reduces pain for most patients.
One of the most common and uncomfortable side effects of chemotherapy is nausea. It can cause vomiting, appetite loss, weight loss, and ultimately may lead to malnutrition. Nausea is uncomfortable, but it is also harmful. Some of the strongest evidence from studies of acupuncture used for cancer patients shows that it can effectively reduce chemotherapy-related nausea and its resulting complications. A review of several studies found that one particular pressure point targeted during acupuncture treatment may be responsible for relieving nausea.
Fatigue, like nausea, is a common complaint for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. Acupuncture may be effective at boosting energy and reducing the severity of fatigue in mesothelioma and other types of cancer patients. In one study, 227 patients were given acupuncture treatment and were compared to a group of cancer patients who only received traditional care. The results showed that those receiving acupuncture were much less fatigued, both physically and mentally, felt less anxiety and depression, and reported having a better quality of life.
Relieving Dry Mouth
Another side effect of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation is dry mouth. Dry mouth is uncomfortable and increases the risk for infections in the gums and mouth. Studies have shown that acupuncture may relieve dry mouth better than traditional symptom management. Patients who received acupuncture in these studies had greater saliva flow. Those who received a placebo in the form of “fake” acupuncture also experienced better relief from dry mouth, which means there may be a placebo effect at work. Patients expected acupuncture would help with saliva flow, and so it did.
Improving Mood and Sleep
Many mesothelioma patients suffer from symptoms of mood disorders, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, all of which can make sleeping more difficult, but acupuncture may help. Some studies have shown that patients felt some relief from these negative feelings, felt more relaxed, and were able to sleep better after receiving acupuncture. It may be that some of the pressure points used in acupuncture help relax the nervous system or reduce the amount of adrenaline produced in the body.
Acupuncture is not a traditional type of western medicine, but it has been used for many years in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Modern, western practitioners are just beginning to realize how powerful this ancient practice may be. It is not a treatment for cancer, but it is proving through research to be a beneficial treatment for mesothelioma symptoms and treatment side effects.
When practiced by a trained professional acupuncture is safe. There is no reason why most mesothelioma patients should not try acupuncture. If you are interested in giving it a try, talk to your medical team and look for a practitioner who has experience working with cancer patients. You may find relief from symptoms and a greater quality of life, but if you do not find that it helps you, there will have been no harm done.
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