Adding Acupuncture to Your Integrative Toolbox

Catherine Allen, LicAc, MAOM, MSc

Today we have a guest post from Catherine Allen, acupuncurist and owner of White Peony in Brunswick, Maine (read her bio below). If you haven’t tried acupuncture, it may be a wonderful tool to add to your integrative cancer-kicking and/or health-boosting toolbox! 

Chinese medicine does not treat cancer!  Whenever I talk to patients or groups about acupuncture and cancer, I like to get that out of the way first.  However, acupuncture can be extremely helpful in treating side effects from Western medicine treatments or the cancer itself.

While I am also a practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine, I generally don’t recommend taking herbs in conjunction with chemotherapy.  There is research to support the use of certain herbs to increase the effect of some chemotherapy drugs, but most oncologists are not open to that idea yet–and I don’t recommend going against the advice of your oncologist.

The foundations of health in Chinese medicine are diet, exercise and sleep.  Unfortunately, cancer treatments commonly cause side effects that interfere with your ability to keep those foundations strong.  What can we do with acupuncture?  There is a lot of research to support its use for common side effects experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy and/or radiation, including:

  • nausea–acupuncture is particularly effective here
  • decreased immune system
  • dry mouth
  • pain–either due to the treatment or the cancer itself
  • neuropathy
  • constipation/diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • hair loss–acupuncture can’t prevent the loss, but the first re-growth will be healthier

Getting acupuncture before surgery can promote relaxation, prevent infection, prevent side effects and alleviate symptoms.  The optimal time to get acupuncture is two days before surgery.  Post-surgery benefits include reduced swelling, improved mental alertness, improved intestinal mobility, and promotion of healing.  Two days post-surgery an acupuncture treatment would focus on controlling pain and improving urinary and bowel function.  One week post-surgery we would continue to work on reducing swelling and pain control, as well as treat any symptoms from medications, such as constipation or nausea.

Additionally, acupuncture promotes healthy sleep and is extremely effective at alleviating anxiety, which is understandably common in patients with cancer due to the treatment and the disease itself.  Because no medication is involved and nothing is added to the bloodstream, acupuncture is an extremely safe and effective way to support your body–both the physical and emotional aspects–while still allowing your treatments to work. Click here for more information information on acupuncture and its use in cancer care.

Catherine Allen is a licensed acupuncturist and has a private practice, White Peony, PC, in Brunswick, Maine.  She earned her Masters in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the New England School of Acupuncture in 2007, and her Masters in Pain Research, Education and Policy from Tufts University School of Medicine in 2009.  Catherine’s post-graduate education includes training at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in using acupuncture for patients with cancer.