Cancer patients who receive chemotherapy treatment for their condition must withstand numerous side effects of the drugs, which interfere with work, daily and family life, and quality of life. Some side effects, including nausea and vomiting, and chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), or nerve pain, can be severe enough that life-saving treatment must be suspended.
3 to 4 of every 10 patients who undergo chemotherapy will develop nerve pain. CIPN typically begins in the hands and feet, and causes tingling, burning, or shooting pain that travels up the arms and legs. The pain can interfere with simple daily tasks such as buttoning a shirt and walking. CIPN is one of the most common reasons patients delay or cut short their cancer treatments.
Acupuncture is a promising treatment for CIPN. It decreases pain symptoms, improves quality of life, and may allow patients to continue chemotherapy. A small study published in Acupuncture in Medicine shows that acupuncture benefits chemotherapy patients who develop nerve pain.
The study was conducted by Sven Schroeder, MD, from the HanseMerkur Center for Traditional Chinese Medicine at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany. Patients received 10 weekly acupuncture sessions. Following acupuncture treatment, the patients reported an improvement in their pain symptoms. Nerve conductions studies, looking at the health of the nerves, also showed improvements in both speed and intensity of nerve signaling.
"These findings are of special significance since peripheral neuropathy is otherwise almost untreatable, but seems to respond to treatment by acupuncture," Dr. Schroeder said.
This study is one of many showing acupuncture to be a valuable complement to chemotherapy in cancer patients. Previous studies have shown acupuncture to be effective for chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and multiple cases studies have also indicated acupuncture’s effectiveness for nerve pain.