As an acupuncturist, I am often asked how much complementary medicine, especially Traditional Chinese Medicine, can help. In this article, I will try to clarify how much can be reasonably expected.
Cancer is a very complex medical condition with over 300 different types of malignancies, each with their own clinical behaviour and treatment approach. Some cancers are a lot more lethal and aggressive than others, but the outcome is not always predictable. For example, cancer of the prostate tends to develop slowly over decades, so most of those afflicted will end up dying with instead of from their cancer. Yet on some occasions it can develop very quickly and deplete the body in a very short period of time.
First of all, it is important to make clear that no practitioner can legally claim that complementary medicine is able to cure cancer.
So our goal as Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners is to eliminate, or at least reduce, the traumatic side effects of the oncology treatment process.
The success rate against cancer, as in most life threatening medical conditions, depends on how early the diagnosis has been made, the forms of treatment that are available, the physical and mental outlook of the sufferer and, unfortunately, how much funding has been allocated for researching that specific form of malignancy.
If the diagnosis was made too late, the surgery didn’t succeed, and the tumour wasn’t eradicated, the chances of long term survival, with rare exceptions, are very slim.
When there is no prospect of cure, the person is assisted through palliative care, where the aim is to diminish their suffering and maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.
This stage can also involve undertaking hormonal and radiation treatments, or chemotherapy. In cancer, abnormal cells mutate, divide and quickly spread over the body. Chemotherapy uses chemical poisons to kill these fast growing cells, but unfortunately it does not discriminate and other healthy fast growing cells get destroyed in the process. Hence the range of debilitating side effects ranging from fatigue, nausea and vomiting to loss of hair.
Traditional Chinese Medicine, especially acupuncture, can have an important role in supporting the patient's wellbeing throughout all these traumatic medical stages.
The level of nausea and vomiting that occurs during chemotherapy is often worse than the treatment itself. The symptoms are so traumatic that sufferers routinely start experiencing nausea at the thought of their next clinic visit.
Acupuncture can be very effective in alleviating these debilitating side effects and reducing the use and dosage of anti nausea medications which are given with the chemotherapeutic agents.
A recent long term medical study conducted at the University of Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine on the effects of acupuncture on post operative nausea and vomiting was so positive that this oriental needle therapy is now administered to cancer patients before, after and in between their chemotherapy treatments.
Acupuncture for cancer related pain control can also help reduce the use of narcotic drugs and minimise their mental and physical side effects.
Acupuncture has also proved to be an effective method to eliminate medication related constipation, as well as assisting in reducing haematoma and tissue swelling.
Traditional Chinese Medicine can also have an important role in boosting the patient’s level of immunity.
Research has shown that specific acupuncture points and the use of small cones of burning herbal substances called “moxibustion” can increase the level of defensive white blood cells in the body.
Moxibustion has been used successfully for several years to treat drug resistant tuberculosis in Africa. (www.moxafrica.org).
Acupuncture might even be more powerful when it is use in combination with other modalities like nutrition.
In the United States, Dr Kenneth Conklin, an anesthesiologist from the oncology department of the University of California, is currently conducting research on the effects of energetic acupuncture when used in combination with nutrition and supplements. Energetic acupuncture repletes energy level to the organism as a whole, re-establishes homeostasis by harmonising energy distribution and unblocking energy flow.
Stimulating acupuncture points has a powerful effect on the nervous system. It can be beneficial to alleviate the depression and anxiety associated with living with a terminal illness.
The degrees of clinical benefits of acupuncture treatments can depend on many different factors, but according to the National Cancer Institute: “ There is a strong evidence that acupuncture can relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Studies have shown it may help reduce the amount of pain medications needed, and consequently some of the side effects of those pain medicines. Recent studies also suggest that acupuncture is helpful for chronic pain as well.
It is not a miracle cure, but for anyone who is drowning in misery and pain, it can sometimes make a world of difference.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com