New research from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX suggests acupuncture is a beneficial complementary therapy to conventional cancer treatment that may help people with mesothelioma.

The study used acupuncture to treat 375 cancer patients and recorded their symptoms before and after treatment, observing both immediate and long-term symptom improvements in the participants.

What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice that uses heated, sterilized needles to stimulate specific points in the body. Acupuncture is thought to work by helping the body’s vital energy, or “qi,” flow along meridians throughout the body. This vital energy is believed to impact physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, and acupuncture helps restore its ideal flow.

A document called The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine is the first record of acupuncture, which dates back to 100 BCE and originates in China. Although acupuncture has gone in and out of popularity throughout history, it has ultimately stood the test of time as a beneficial pain management treatment.

Some find the concept of qi and meridians difficult to buy into, but studies like the one by MD Anderson continue to prove acupuncture’s benefits and place in modern cancer therapy.

Acupuncture for Mesothelioma Symptoms and Patient Suffering

MD Anderson’s acupuncture study concluded, “Outpatient acupuncture was associated with immediate and longitudinal significant improvement across a range of symptoms commonly experienced by individuals during cancer care. Further research is needed to better understand [the] frequency of treatments needed in clinical practice to help maintain benefit.”

According to the study, acupuncture for mesothelioma and other cancers can improve common cancer symptoms like:

  • Hot flashes
  • Fatigue
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Spiritual pain

The study noted improvements in the participants’ total health, including physical and psychological wellbeing, suggesting acupuncture can help with many aspects of a patient’s diagnosis.

The study’s inclusion of spiritual pain is interesting, as it recognizes the need to cure more than a person’s physical body. Research continually reinforces the concept that emotional, mental and spiritual health all play a role in a cancer patient’s wellness and recovery.

Acknowledging and improving spiritual health is part of a more holistic approach to cancer treatment that has been introduced in many progressive cancer facilities throughout the world. Most, if not all, NCI-designated cancer centers include both conventional and holistic therapies in their multimodal cancer treatment programs.

MD Anderson and Integrative Medicine

Although the results of the new study were published in mid-November 2018, MD Anderson has a long history of accepting holistic practices and offering acupuncture for mesothelioma and other cancers. Acupuncture was first provided by MD Anderson’s “Place of Wellness” 20 years ago, but in a somewhat informal capacity as doctors didn’t yet understand its place in medicine.

About a decade later, the Place of Wellness transformed into the Integrative Medicine Center (IMC). IMC receives MD Anderson patients by referral and doctors can recommend their patients for a range of holistic therapies, including acupuncture, music therapy, meditation, nutrition and oncology massage.

Today, acupuncture is frequently recommended for cancer patients who are suffering from symptoms that respond well to the treatment. The results of the recent study by MD Anderson likely didn’t come as a surprise, as cancer researchers were proving a treatment they already knew has positive effects.

However, it’s important to note that acupuncture in a hospital setting may differ from a private acupuncture clinic. Hospitals will not recommend herbal medicines or herbal therapies, which are integrated components of traditional Eastern acupuncture.

The Future of Holistic Medicine in Hospitals

MD Anderson is by no means the only hospital integrating holistic therapies into their cancer programs. Acupuncture at MD Anderson is just one example of the shift towards addressing all aspects of a cancer diagnosis, which goes well beyond physical symptoms and into the emotional and psychological care needs.

Conventional treatments can be combined with alternative therapies that consider patients’ whole health and improve overall wellness. People diagnosed with mesothelioma or other forms of cancer may find symptom relief from acupuncture and other holistic therapies. Talk to your doctor about acupuncture for mesothelioma and whether it’s safe for you.

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Sources
  1. ASCO Meeting Library, “Outpatient acupuncture effects on patient self-reported symptoms in oncology care: A retrospective analysis of real-world data.” Retrieved from
    https://meetinglibrary.asco.org/record/167144/abstract Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  2. MD Anderson, “Integrative Medicine Center,” Retrieved from
    https://www.mdanderson.org/patients-family/diagnosis-treatment/care-centers-clinics/integrative-medicine-center.html Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  3. Current Pain and Headaches Reports, “Acupuncture for Cancer Pain and Related Symptoms,” Retrieved from
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008096/ Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  4. Cancer Research UK, “Acupuncture,” Retrieved from
    https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative-therapies/individual-therapies/acupuncture Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  5. National Cancer Institute, “Acupuncture PDQ,” Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/acupuncture-pdq Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  6. Acupuncture Today, “Acupuncture in an Integrative Oncology Center,” Retrieved from https://www.acupuncturetoday.com/digital/index.php?i=728&a_id=33542&pn=2&r=t&Page=8 Accessed on December 22, 2018.
  7. Rheumatology, “A brief history of acupuncture,” Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/rheumatology/article/43/5/662/1788282 Accessed on December 22, 2018.

Last modified: April 4, 2019