This ancient therapy originating in China involves inserting very thin needles into the body surface at specific points; it is effective in treating many cancer symptoms and side effects.

How do experts use acupuncture?

Both medical groups and integrative experts provide recommendations for this therapy in treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations.

Clinical practice guidelines

The 2016 ACS/ASCO breast cancer survivorship care guideline recommends acupuncture to treat musculoskeletal symptoms, including pain.

2013 clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians recommend acupuncture or related techniques as an adjunct treatment option for lung cancer patients with these conditions:

  • Nausea and vomiting from either chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • Cancer-related or and peripheral neuropathy with inadequate control of symptoms

American Society of Clinical Oncology

Two guidelines mention acupuncture for use among people with cancer.

Management of chronic pain in survivors of adult cancers: American Society of Clinical Oncology clinical practice guideline ›

The 2016 ASCO clinical practice guideline for management of chronic pain in survivors of adult cancers gives a weak recommendation for acupuncture to manage chronic pain. The reviewers concluded that benefits of acupuncture outweigh harms, although the quality of evidence is low.

Interventions to address sexual problems in people with cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology clinical practice guideline adaptation of Cancer Care Ontario guideline ›

Acupuncture may be a suitable alternative to medications for men with vasomotor symptoms.

Acupuncture and electroacupuncture can be considered for the management of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms in women with a history of breast cancer noting there is inconsistent evidence regarding their effectiveness (evidence is weak and recommendation must be applied with caution).

Acupuncture can be considered for the management of sleep disturbance in women with a history of breast cancer (evidence provides some support for recommendation(s) but care should be taken in its application).

The 2019 guideline recommends acupuncture for pain, constipation, and insomnia.

International Trustworthy Traditional Chinese Medicine Recommendations (TCM Recs) Working Group

Acupuncture for cancer pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline ›

A strong recommendation for the treatment of acupuncture rather than no treatment to relieve pain in patients with moderate to severe cancer pain

A weak recommendation for the combination treatments with acupuncture/acupressure to reduce pain intensity, decrease the opioid dose, and alleviate opioid-related side effects in moderate to severe cancer pain patients who are using analgesics

A strong recommendation for acupuncture in breast cancer patients to relieve their aromatase inhibitor-induced arthralgia

National Comprehensive Care Network

Three guidelines mention acupuncture for use among people with cancer.

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Survivorship Care for Cancer-Related Late and Long-Term Effects, 2020 ›

The 2020 NCCN survivorship care guidelines list acupuncture as a treatment option for these conditions:

  • Hot flashes
  • Fatigue
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Myofascial pain
  • Joint pain (arthralgias) and muscle pain (myalgias)

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Nausea and Vomiting Version 1.2016 ›

The version 1.2016 guidelines for nausea and vomiting state that acupuncture is a “complementary therapy used to treat nausea and vomiting.”

NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Cancer-Related Fatigue. Version 2.2022 ›

These guidelines recommend acupuncture after treatment to manage cancer-related fatigue, based on lower-level evidence.

Shanghai Association of Chinese Integrative Medicine

Clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of primary liver cancer with integrative traditional Chinese and Western medicine ›

These 2018 guidelines give a weak recommendation for acupuncture to relieve pain or reduce gastrointestinal reactions such as vomiting during TACE and other treatments (low level of evidence).

Society for Integrative Oncology

Two guidelines mention acupuncture for use among people with cancer.

Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: complementary therapies and botanicals ›

The 2009 Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO) clinical practice guidelines recommend acupuncture for these conditions:

Pain: Acupuncture is recommended as a complementary therapy when pain is poorly controlled, when nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy or surgical anesthesia are poorly controlled, or when the side effects from other modalities are clinically significant (strong recommendation).

Dry mouth from radiotherapy: Acupuncture is recommended as a complementary therapy for radiation-induced dry mouth (xerostomia) (strong recommendation).

Hot flashes: Acupuncture does not appear to be more effective than sham acupuncture for treatment of vasomotor symptoms (hot flashes) in postmenopausal women in general. In patients experiencing severe symptoms not amenable to pharmacologic treatment, however, a trial of acupuncture treatment can be considered (strong recommendation).

Smoking cessation: For patients who do not stop smoking despite use of other options, a trial of acupuncture may be helpful, but more clinical studies of acupuncture are warranted (weak recommendation).

Patients suffering from symptoms such as cancer-related breathlessness (dyspnea), cancer-related fatigue, chemotherapy-induced neuropathy, or post-thoracotomy pain, a trial of acupuncture may be helpful, but more clinical studies of acupuncture are warranted (weak recommendation).

The guidelines also include cautions: “Acupuncture should be performed only by qualified practitioners and used cautiously in patients with bleeding tendencies.”

Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment › This set of guidelines has been endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).1Lyman GH, Greenlee H et al. Integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment: ASCO endorsement of the SIO clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018 Sep 1;36(25):2647-2655.

The 2017 SIO clinical practice guidelines regarding breast cancer patients states that acupuncture can be considered as an addition to antiemetic drugs to control nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy. The guidelines also says acupuncture can be considered for these circumstances:

  • Reducing anxiety
  • As an addition to anti-emetics drugs to control vomiting during chemotherapy
  • Improving fatigue after treatment
  • Managing pain
  • Improving mood disturbance and depressive symptoms
  • Improving quality of life
  • Improving hot flashes
  • Improving lymphedema

Researchers from these organizations came to consensus on these recommendations:

  • Acupuncture should be offered to patients experiencing AI-related joint pain in breast cancer (moderate recommendation).
  • Acupuncture may be offered to patients experiencing general pain or musculoskeletal pain from cancer (moderate recommendation).
  • Acupuncture or acupressure may be offered to patients undergoing cancer surgery or other cancer-related procedures such as bone marrow biopsy (weak recommendation).
  • Acupuncture may be offered to patients experiencing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathydamage to the peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord from cancer treatment (weak recommendation).

Other recommendations

Chinese medicine clinical service

Development of evidence-based Chinese medicine clinical service recommendations for cancer palliative care using Delphi Approach based on the evidence to decision framework ›

A survey of experts published in 2020 found a positive consensus to recommend acupuncture for treating fatigue among palliative cancer patients.

The World Health Organization published an extensive review of evidence in 2002 concluding that acupuncture is an effective treatment for many diseases, symptoms or conditions, including pain and other cancer symptoms.

Published protocols, programs, and approaches

Acupuncture is used in programs, approaches and protocolsa package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care from these integrative oncologists, drawing from both scientific research and observations from years or even decades of treating people with cancer.

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella

Approaches are described for certain cancer types, or along with certain conventional therapy treatments, or for particular conditions such as insulin resistance.

Acupuncture is used for managing side effects and symptoms including pain.

Keith Block, MD

Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.

The integrative Block Program has recommendations to people who are at different places along the cancer continuum:

  • Those who’ve been recently diagnosed
  • Those in treatment
  • Those who’ve concluded treatment and need to remain vigilant to prevent recurrence

Uses of acupuncture:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Smoking cessation
  • Some respiratory difficulties

Raymond Chang, MD, FACP

Chang R. Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-Cancer Cocktail. New York: Square One Publishers. 2012.

This book describes a “new therapy based on the knowledge that certain off-label drugs, nutrients, and therapies are each somewhat effective against cancer.” Dr. Chang combines approaches for added benefit.

Uses of acupuncture:

  • Improving quality of life
  • Part of a treatment “cocktail” with other therapies

Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc

MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion—A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. Self-published. 2016.

Naturopathic physician Barbara MacDonald provides information about breast cancer, its conventional treatment, and natural approaches to enhancing treatment, managing side effects, reducing risk of recurrence, and healthy living after cancer treatment is completed.

Neil McKinney, BSc, ND

McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.

This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.

Uses of acupuncture:

  • Breast cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Hot flashes
  • Neuropathy

Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO

Parmar G, Kaczor T. Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology: A Desktop Guide of Integrative Cancer Care. 1st edition. Medicatrix Holdings Ltd. 2020.

This book provides information on the treatment of 24 cancers, plus the most effective treatments of the most common symptoms affecting cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.

Uses of acupuncture:

  • Manage stress
  • Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy
  • Improve anorexia and quality of life in thyroid cancer

Traditional medicine

Acupuncture is used in traditional Chinese medicine therapy. Recommendations for use from Chinese medicine expert groups are listed above on this page.

Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find practitioners.

Other assessments

The Moss Reports conclude that acupuncture is effective in treating nerve pain, nausea, and vomiting. Acupuncture is listed in their “Green Light Treatments: Well Researched Approaches” for symptom management.2Moss R. The Moss Report on Breast Cancer. 2017-2.0. p. 1.

Keep reading about acupuncture

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Reviewers

Dr. Ryan is a research associate for CancerChoices. She is a licensed and board certified naturopathic physician and acupuncturist in Oregon. Dr. Ryan is the founder of Gentle Natural Wellness, a clinic specializing in bridging classical Chinese medicine with naturopathic medicine to provide individualized, compassionate care for people in the community. A Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine with honors from the National University of Natural Medicine, research in medical anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and George Mason University, language and culture programs at Obirin University (Tokyo) and Sogang University (Seoul), and studies of Chinese herbal medicine and qigong in China have provided a diverse background that has helped form a foundation for her community health and healing path.

Emily Ryan, ND, MSOM, LAc Research Associate

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Janet Spitzer, MD

Integrative physician
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Dr. Spitzer is a family physician and cancer survivor. She received her medical degree from Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and specializes in complementary and integrative medicine.

Janet Spitzer, MD Integrative physician

Last update: November 3, 2022

Last full literature review: February 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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