Acupuncture and cancer

      Abstract

      Acupuncture has become a popular complementary treatment in oncology, particularly as patients seek non-pharmacological alternatives to provide symptom control. A considerable body of evidence suggests that acupuncture modulates neurological processes to bring about its effects. This basic research is supported by an increasing number of positive clinical studies of varying quality. Lower quality studies have hampered the widespread acceptability of acupuncture, with some deeming the inter-personal skills of the practitioner to be more powerful than the needle or its equivalent. More recent randomised control trials (RCTs) have sought to settle this controversy, with mixed results. The literature was searched to identify, where possible, RCTs involving acupuncture and various common cancer symptoms. A potential role for acupuncture was found in the following cancer symptoms: pain, nausea and vomiting, xerostomia, hot flushes, fatigue, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Acupuncture is safe with minimal side-effects, and is clinically effective for the management of these symptoms. Continuing research using validated methodology is essential. In the interim, health professionals should be open to explore the use of acupuncture with their cancer patients.

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