New Trials Strengthen Function of Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment

by Deanna Carell |

New Trials Strengthen Function of Acupuncture in Cancer Treatment

Aromatase inhibitors are among the commonly used treatments for breast cancer. Over a period of five to ten years, these drugs lower estrogen levels and reduce the risk that the cancer will occur. However, side effects include arthritis-like pain. Where there is pain, there is concern over the use of pain-relief drugs, particularly those that are opioid-based.

With women refusing to take the medication regularly, or at all, oncologists like Dawn Hershman have begun trials to investigate whether acupuncture could help to reduce the pain caused by the treatment. 

Can Acupuncture Help with Pain Management?

Hershman performed her first trial at Columbia University Medical Centre in New York City, where she also practices oncology. They got positive results after which Hershman and her colleagues performed a larger trial of real and artificial acupuncture with 226 women, who were categorized into one of three groups, at 11 distinct cancer centers throughout the United States. The results were presented on December 7, 2017 at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas.  

acupuncture for pain

Only one group out of three received real acupuncture. In the second group, the non-acupuncture sites (points that are not acupuncture sites) had needles inserted, not more deeply in the skin. This is known as "sham acupuncture". The third group received no treatment. The women were asked to measure their pain levels.

After six weeks, the worst pain recorded by women in the first group [who had received acupuncture] was reported as one point lower, on a scale from zero to ten, than those in the other groups. 

Compared to antidepressants used to help reduce pain in cancer patients, this is a statistically significant change. Interestingly, the percentage of participants with improved pain levels by at least 2 points was twice than those in both control groups.

Acupuncture is a complementary therapy for pain relief. Rollin Gallagher, director of pain-policy research at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and editor-in-chief of the journal Pain Medicine, states that many studies reveal that acupuncture stimulates neurophysiological alterations that acupuncture triggers neurophysiological changes that are relevant to pain in conditions ranging from carpal tunnel syndrome to fibromyalgia.  

The Results

The conclusion is that acupuncture provides a reasonable compliment to prescription medications. Nearly 90% of US National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers recommends that their patients try acupuncture. Over 70% offer it as a treatment for side effects. 

By incorporating acupuncture into common medical care, the treatment is further validated and unrestricted, irrational practitioners are starting to diminish in prominence. Most importantly, it is keeping patients on their medication and improving their quality of life. 

Care Consideration: Just a reminder that the above information is not a substitute for medical care and is not a substitute for medical advice or recommendations  from a healthcare provider.  This information is not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease.  That said, we encourage you to connect with an Acupuncturist in your community to learn more about this and other Traditional Chinese Medicine options.  If you’ve got questions about Chinese herbal medicine or getting started with an Acupuncturist, feel free to connect with us on

Deanna Carell is a licensed acupuncturist and owner of Deanna Carell Acupuncture located in Nutley, NJ. She is also the co-owner of Microessence, LLC a company specializing in microneedling courses, devices and natural skin care. Deanna most recently received her Doctorate in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DAOM) from the Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego and she received a Master’s degree from the Eastern School of Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine where she studied TCM and Kiiko style Japanese acupuncture.

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