By Timothy Cavanaugh
Those coping with cancer and other forms of disease often look to acupuncture and other alternative therapies to provide relief for pain, stress and anxiety. Practiced as early as the Stone Age, acupuncture has been a source of relief for numerous conditions for thousands of years. The exact way the technique was discovered or developed is not well-understood, but one legend claims that Chinese soldiers receiving arrow wounds in battle reported relief from pain in other body parts, which inspired further research.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) defines acupuncture as the “application of stimulation such as needling, moxibustion, cupping, and acupressure on specific sites of the body known as acupuncture points.” They report that acupuncture may work by inducing physical response in nerve cells, the pituitary gland and certain parts of the brain.
Some notable conditions that acupuncture has been known to treat include allergies, gastrointestinal conditions, back pain, migraines and infertility. Some proponents of modern Western medicine continue to doubt the effects of acupuncture, but a growing body of scientific evidence has prompted many medical professionals to consider the benefits of this treatment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a scientific review of controlled clinical trials on acupuncture in 2003, and concluded it was an effective method of treatment for 28 conditions. Some of the listed conditions include adverse reactions to radiotherapy or chemotherapy, depression, hypertension, nausea and vomiting, and postoperative pain. They also found evidence that suggests acupuncture could be effective for several dozen more conditions, including abdominal pain, cancer pain, insomnia and whooping cough. Due to the relief of symptoms associated with cancer, breast, colon and mesothelioma cancer patients, among others, have turned to acupuncture for relief of their cancer symptoms and side effects.
Acupuncture and Cancer
Acupuncture can be used as an additional and complimentary treatment for the side effects that cancer patients experience, such as overall pain and nausea (caused by other cancer treatments like chemotherapy). NCI reports that clinical studies of acupuncture as a treatment for cancer show that acupuncture can reduce vomiting and nausea caused by chemotherapy. They also found that acupuncture may improve the immune system, helping cancer patients to fight their condition and its side effects.
The physical responses acupuncture can induce in nerve cells, the pituitary gland and parts of the brain can cause the body to release hormones, proteins and certain brain chemicals that affect a range of bodily functions. Through this response, it is proposed that acupuncture can affect blood pressure and body temperature, enhance immune system function, and prompts the body to release natural pain killers (such as endorphins).
Considered a natural form of treatment, acupuncture can help to treat side effects of cancers that are caused by exposure to natural, environmental forces, such as UV rays, radon or the toxic mineral asbestos. Clinical research currently suggests that a number of cancers are caused by exposure to environmental forces in those who happen to be genetically predisposed. A notable example includes skin cancer, but other lesser-known cancers, including the rare cancer mesothelioma, are also caused by exposure to environmental toxins. Asbestos exposure is one of the only causes of mesothelioma, and it is even linked to ovarian and prostate cancer. Patients coping with the symptoms and side effects of these cancers have reported relief after receiving acupuncture.
Though the benefits of acupuncture are still questioned by some medical professionals, numerous cancer patients have attested to the healing effects of this age-old treatment approach. Acupuncture, along with other forms of alternative medicine such as massage, meditation and yoga, have certainly gained support from countless cancer patients, and clinical trials continue to provide scientific evidence of the benefits of this treatment.
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