Acupuncture Can Offer Relief from Chemotherapy Side Effects

Winchester Hospital embraced an alternative therapy for cancer patients, offering those getting chemo treatments access to acupuncture.

On Wednesday mornings for the past three years, Joseph Kelliher, an acupuncturist for more than a quarter-century, makes his way through the Cancer Care Center, asking patients whether they’d like to try the ancient practice.

“Often they experience relief; sometimes there’s nothing. But often enough it works, and we are able to get them some relief,” he said.

Not all patients want more needles, of course, but many are exceedingly open to trying an alternative therapy to remedy the side effects from chemotherapy.

And one significant benefit with acupuncture is that it doesn’t interfere with any of the pharmaceuticals a cancer patient may be taking.

Acupuncture is a 2,000-year-old technique that stems from traditional Chinese medicine.

By inserting needles into specific pressure points, acupuncture is believed to manipulate the energy of the body – known as qi or chi – and alleviate a number of ailments. For cancer patients, these ailments can include nausea, hot flashes, neuropathy, fatigue, headaches and anxiety.

The National Institutes of Health says acupuncture may work by causing physical responses in nerve cells, the pituitary gland, and parts of the brain, affecting blood pressure and body temperature.

Many times, patients feel immediacy when it comes to pursuing cancer treatments, which generally take a bit of time. Understandably, they want it to work right away, but chemo and other treatments take time. Many patients, however, settle into the timeframe it takes to treat cancer and switch from a “sprint to a marathon mentality,” Kelliher said.

“There’s a lot of stress for patients who get a cancer diagnosis,” he said. “People have the whole spectrum of emotional responses. It ranges from anger, despair and all of the above.”

Still, seeing some of the same faces every Wednesday – and some patients schedule their chemo appointments on Wednesday so they can get acupuncture – Kelliher, who blogged about the practice, is reminded of the important work he’s doing.

“It’s very encouraging to work with this population,” he said. “To see some people go from despair to something much more positive and grateful.”

Speak with your Lahey Health physician to learn more about acupunture and alternative therapies for cancer care.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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