Cancer Patients Can Get Help from a Surprising Source: Acupuncture

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Cancer and its treatment can cause patients numerous unpleasant side effects, including pain, fatigue and nausea. These can also contribute to insomnia, as can stress and anxiety, right at a time when patients need sufficient rest to battle cancer.

Acupuncture may help.

“Acupuncture: Patient Version,” published by the National Cancer Institute ( states that acupuncture has been shown in clinical trials to “control pain and to relieve nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, xerostomia [dry mouth], neuropathy, anxiety, depression and sleeping problems.”

Yuehui Li “Lisa” Zhou, licensed acupuncturist at Chinese Medicine & Rehab Center in Amherst, said that for thousands of years, Chinese practitioners have successfully used acupuncture for people experiencing pain and nausea.

Some patients struggle to complete all the grueling rounds of chemotherapy or radiation and must take a break. Zhou said that acupuncture may also help improve clients’ energy.

“It’s very helpful for the pain,” Zhou said “It’s really helpful for nausea, too. We always give herbal medicine, too, to make that feeling of sickness go away. Some people won’t need medication for the nausea. With the acupuncture and herbal medicine, they don’t feel so weak. It’s a lot of help.”

Anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis would likely agree that anxiety and fear caused some sleepless nights.

Andrea Schilling, licensed acupuncturist at Acupuncture Works in Williamsville, said that acupuncture “is known for its calming the whole nervous system, which helps with stress and anxiety.

Like other modalities of Chinese medicine, acupuncture offers a holistic perspective that supports clients’ wellness rather than the typical Western perspective that focuses more on patient diseases.

“Acupuncture is about creating balance in the body. If you have pain, stress, or any health-related symptoms causing these issues, something’s not in balance,” Schilling said.

Acupuncture has no medical contraindications for cancer patients and may help lessen their need of pain medication and the medication to mitigate treatment side effects. Medication may bring many benefits to treating the disease, but it’s not always harmless to natural functions of the body. By lowering the medication load, the patient’s body has fewer substances to filter out and contend with.

Acupuncturists generally work by using hair-thin, sterile, one-use needles to stimulate the nervous system and circulatory system, and trigger the release of endorphins. By knowing the correct areas to stimulate, the acupuncturist can achieve the desired results.

Schilling said patients usually receive benefits from acupuncture within 24 to 48 hours.

“Many are choosing a variety of modalities to support them through that time in life,” said Ronald Pratt, licensed acupuncturist in Buffalo.

He added that acupuncture can help cancer patients stay strong, along with promoting well being and stress reduction. He believes that acupuncture is really about reestablishing homeostasis, or, normal function.

“Whenever there’s an imbalance in the body, the result is a certain set of symptoms,” Pratt said. “We use the needles to stimulate a variety of responses so the body balances and the body heals itself. With pain, there’s stagnation. Something is stuck. The needles offer free flow.”