By inserting very thin needles at specific points on the body and passing a mild electric current between them, electroacupuncture can relieve some side effects and symptoms common during cancer.

Safety and precautions

Electroacupuncture is generally safe, with few and usually mild side effects. Some people should not undergo electroacupuncture.

Side effects or adverse events

The risk of negative events or side effects is low and may be lower than those from drug therapies.1Wang X, Cai W et al. Is electroacupuncture an effective and safe treatment for poststroke depression? an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. BioMed Research International. 2021 Aug 24;2021:8661162. 

Side effects include these:2Ratini M. What Is Electroacupuncture? Web MD. June 17, 2021. Viewed September 18, 2021; Healthline. Try This: Electroacupuncture. December 7, 2020. Viewed September 18, 2021.

  • Brief pain when the needle is inserted
  • Light bleeding (a few drops) when the needle is removed
  • Occasional redness or bruising at the needle site

Less common or rare side effects:

  • Mild nausea
  • Brief dizziness, feeling faint, or fainting
  • Infection at the needle site, though this is rare when single-use sterile needles are used
  • Organ, tissue, or nerve damage
  • Temporary low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Vomiting during or after treatment

Interactions with other therapies

Preliminary evidence of worse chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) among people with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy of taxane treated with electroacupuncture compared to sham3Greenlee H, Crew KD et al. Randomized sham-controlled pilot trial of weekly electro-acupuncture for the prevention of taxane-induced peripheral neuropathy in women with early stage breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment. 2016 Apr;156(3):453-464.

Do not use (contraindications)

People who have a history of any of the following conditions should avoid electroacupuncture: 

  • Seizures or epilepsy‌ (for electroacupuncture to the head)
  • Heart disease using a pacemaker or defibrillator

According to the Society for Integrative Oncology clinical practice guidelines for integrative therapies in breast cancer care, “electroacupuncture should not be used in patients with a pacemaker or implantable defibrillators and that special attention is required when treating patients who are pregnant, have seizure disorders, or are disoriented.”4Greenlee H, DuPont-Reyes MJ et al. Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2017 May 6;67(3):194-232.

Keep reading about electroacupuncture

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

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

Reviewer

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

Last update: May 16, 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.

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