Acupuncture, the traditional Chinese medicine that uses needles for treatment, is increasingly being used with cancer patients. Dr. Ting Bao, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and faculty at Maryland's Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center and Center for Integrative Medicine, regularly used acupuncture to alleviate pain and treat side effects.
Question: How common is it for cancer patients to seek relief using acupuncture?
Answer: It is difficult for me to come up with a percentage because there have not been many studies performed to answer this question yet. What I can say is that based on my experience at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, more and more cancer patients are interested in integrating acupuncture into their cancer treatment. I started an acupuncture clinic two years ago at UMGCC and at that time, most of my patients were surprisingly not cancer patients but were there getting help for pain, anxiety, constipation or weight loss. Now, most of my patients are cancer patients seeking help to treat or prevent their cancer symptoms or the side effects of their cancer treatments.
Q: What is acupuncture and how does it work?
A: Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves inserting and manipulating filiform needles in predefined points on the skin to achieve therapeutic effect. Acupuncture has been widely used in China to treat a range of medical conditions such as pain, nausea, vomiting, infertility and seasonal allergies. Acupuncture was introduced in the United States in 1971 after New York Times reporter James Reston reported that acupuncture relieved his postoperative pain after an emergency appendectomy while he was in Beijing. While the specific mechanism of acupuncture is not fully understood, it has been proposed that acupuncture works through its effect on neurotransmitters and neurohormones. Animal research suggests that acupuncture accomplishes its effect by stimulating nerves in the muscle, which then relay a signal to the spinal cord, midbrain, and hypothalamus and pituitary system, which then leads to the release of neurotransmitters and hormones such as endorphins and enkephalins. Other mechanisms such as activation of descending pain inhibiting pathways, deactivation of the limbic system, cortical cerebral vasodilation resulting in neuropeptide release and inhibition of the release of inflammatory factors have also been suggested to explain the analgesic effects of acupuncture. A recent article in Nature suggests that acupuncture works through adenosine, a neuromodulator with pain-relieving properties.