Kyara Bergstrom tells us about the benefit of acupuncture for symptom control when undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
It’s quite common for a patient to be interested in complementary health when diagnosed with breast cancer. One therapy that is proving to be useful in some settings is acupuncture for symptom control.
What is acupuncture?
It’s the placing of single-use, pre-sterilised, disposable needles of varying widths and lengths. These needles are much finer than injection needles and are supplied with a guide-tube for easy insertion and no risk of anything touching the needle during the process. The needles are so fine that very little discomfort should be felt when inserted.
Different types of acupuncture
This is the one we frequently think of, where tiny needles are placed in certain areas of the body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine says that the ear contains acupuncture points that can heal every area of the body.
This has been said to be useful for treating pain. Small clips on top of regular acupuncture needles are used to send an electric current in between two acupuncture needle points.
Using the knowledge of acupuncture points, acupressure pinpoints these same areas but uses massage and pressure instead of needle placement. This can be taught to patients to do at home.
Small amounts of herbs are placed on top of body acupuncture needles and then lit.
Magnets and acupuncture
Small magnets are placed over acupuncture points or are kept in place on the acupuncture point.
Heat treatments and acupuncture
Heat lamps are placed over acupuncture needles.
What does it help with?
Acupuncture has been reported to be useful for the following side effects of chemotherapy:
- Hot flushes
- Nausea and vomiting
- General body pain
- Vasomotor symptoms e.g. palpitations and dizziness, sweating
- Peripheral neuropathy e.g. tingling or altered sensation in the hands and feet
- Sleep disturbance
- Xerostomia (dry mouth)
There is some evidence that acupuncture can help manage hot flushes and some data showing it can help improve quality of life.
In a study done with breast cancer patients, there were reports of beneficial affects in reducing hot flushes during the trial, three months and six months following the trial.
Another study showed electroacupuncture improved sleep in women who were experiencing hot flushes and other studies suggest it can be useful for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (tingling feeling).
A few other studies of acupuncture have showed promising results but more studies are needed.
There can be minor side effects, including (but not limited to) bleeding, haematomas (collection of blood in the area), dizziness, pain and very rarely infection.
It’s important for patients who are considering acupuncture to ensure it’s done by trained certified practitioners.
MEET OUR EXPERT – Kyara Bergstrom
Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.