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.

Safety and precautions

Acupuncture is generally safe and well tolerated. 

Side effects or adverse events

Some adverse effects are experienced by up to 10% of patients, although some studies report a much lower number1Yamashita H, Tsukayama H, Tanno Y, Nishijo K. Adverse events in acupuncture and moxibustion treatment: a six-year survey at a national clinic in Japan. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 1999 Jun;5(3):229-36. and others a higher number.2Odsberg A, Schill U, Haker E. Acupuncture treatment: side effects and complications reported by Swedish physiotherapists. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2001 Mar;9(1):17-20. Adverse effects may include these:Wu X, Chung VC et al. Effectiveness of acupuncture and related therapies for palliative care of cancer: overview of systematic reviews. Scientific Reports. 2015 Nov 26;5:16776.

  • Pain or bleeding at needling sites
  • Bruising, skin discoloration (ecchymosis) or leaking of blood outside blood vessels (hematoma)
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness
  • Drowsiness
  • Discomfort
  • Short-term rash
  • Tingling
  • Sensation similar to an electrical shock 
  • Localized skin irritation and infections (rare since national certification requirements for clean-needle techniques were developed and enforced as an acupuncture licensure requirement)

Ppreliminary evidence of worse diarrhea without regard to treatment phase among people with cancer treated with acupuncture

Do not use (contraindications)

Patients with any of these conditions may be advised not to undergo acupuncture:4Filshie J. Safety aspects of acupuncture in palliative care. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2001 Dec;19(2):117-22.

  • Pregnancy
  • Lymphedemaswelling caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system, most commonly caused by lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment (in the affected limb)
  • Low levels of neutrophils (neutropenia)
  • Low platelet count or other severe clotting disorder
  • An unstable spine
  • Pacemaker use

Keep reading about acupuncture


Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher
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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 and writer for CancerChoices and also served as the first program manager. 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


Dr. Ryan served as 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, MSN, RN, 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, MSN, RN, 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: May 29, 2024

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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