Undergoing treatment for cancer is scary and brings about its own set of struggles and side effects. You’ll work with your doctor to find the right balance of treatment procedures and medications to help you feel the best you can.

Acupuncture, a method used in traditional Chinese medicine, is growing as a tool for people with cancer.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture stimulates different areas of the body, usually by inserting thin needles into the skin. The idea is that energy flows through your body in specific patterns. By stimulating certain areas along these patterns, acupuncture may improve symptoms and quality of life.

What to expect during acupuncture treatment

When you receive acupuncture, a practitioner will gently insert the needles into specific points on your body. Depending on the type of acupuncture you receive, he or she may apply heat or little electrical pulses to the needles. You lie on a table and relax for about 20 minutes before the needles are removed.

How Can Acupuncture be Included in My Cancer Treatment?

Acupuncture has been shown to help with a range of side effects people experience during cancer treatment. It is not used as a curative measure, but rather to improve how you feel.

Pain management for cancer itself, chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation is the most common use of acupuncture. It has also been shown to help with nausea and vomiting, particularly if other options aren’t working for you.

Other side effects people receive acupuncture to treat include:

  • Fatigue
  • Hot flashes
  • Anxiety
  • Neuropathy
  • Insomnia

Should I be Worried About Side Effects of Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is generally safe and often effective. You may feel some soreness after treatment, but that goes away shortly.

Chemotherapy can weaken your immune system. You want to make sure the practitioner uses clean, single-use needles to prevent infection and be certain your oncologist is aware of the timing of acupuncture in the context of your cancer treatment or history.

Talk with your oncologist about adding acupuncture in to your treatment or survivorship regimen. He or she may be able to recommend a licensed practitioner and ensure effective communication.

Acupuncture may be included as part of an integrative oncology program, which aims to treat the whole person — mind, body, and spirit while ensuring safety and supervision above all.

Want to learn more about integrative oncology, including yoga and other practices for cancer patients? Check out our Medical Mondays segment focused on integrative oncology.In addition, we have a licensed acupuncturist onsite at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. To schedule, call 412-623-7753.