©Elizabeth Halsey 2018

Acupuncture in cancer care

Acupuncture is widely used in cancer care, and is used in most hospitals and hospices. It can help alleviate a range of symptoms resulting from cancer and cancer treatments.

 

Acupuncture may be used to help manage:

 

  • Hot flushes due to hormone therapies

  • Dry mouth from radiotherapy

  • Persistent pain after surgery

  • Nausea from chemotherapy

  • Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage) from chemotherapy

  • Breathlessness

  • Fatigue

 

In addition, many people find that acupuncture promotes a sense of wellbeing which may help people who are feeling stressed or anxious.

Acupuncture during a course of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy works by destroying fast-growing cells, including white blood cells, and consequently can impair immunity. A reduction in immune cells usually occurs within 3-7 days following administration of chemotherapy. While this should be taken into account when considering whether to have acupuncture, it is not an absolute contraindication. 

Acupuncture during a course of radiotherapy

It is generally safe to have acupuncture during a course of radiotherapy. Needles cannot be used in the tissues which have been exposed to radiation as healing will be impaired in this zone and infection risk could be greater.

Acupuncture and lymphoedema

If you have had lymph nodes surgically removed or damaged through radiotherapy, and consequently are at increased risk of lymphoedema, it is unlikely you will be able have acupuncture in the affected limb. 

Ask a member of your cancer team if you aren't sure whether you can have acupuncture.