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)
- Short-term rash
- 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
- Lower remission rate of diarrhea among people with cancer treated with acupuncture in a meta-analysis of 2 RCTs of low to moderate quality3Tao WW, Jiang H et al. Effects of acupuncture, tuina, tai chi, qigong, and traditional Chinese medicine Five-Element Music Therapy on symptom management and quality of life for cancer patients: a meta-analysis. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management. 2016 Apr;51(4):728-747.
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.
- 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
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