Focus on Cancer - Nausea during treatments

Nausea and loss of appetite can be common side effects of some cancer treatments and while medications to prevent or treat nausea are often combined with chemotherapy drugs, many patients still experience symptoms.  For the “foodies” and our patients who experience much pleasure from eating, this can be an especially difficult side effect as they no longer take pleasure in nourishing their bodies.  However, managing nausea and loss of appetite for any patient is crucial during cancer treatment in order to maintain energy levels and prevent rapid weight loss, which can complicate treatment.

Reducing nausea and returning appetite and joy in eating not only improves treatment outcomes, but also increases energy levels and bolsters the spirits. The safety and efficacy of acupuncture as a way to manage nausea and loss of appetite during cancer treatments has been documented in several evidence-based studies recently. The support doesn’t stop there though.  Other side effects such as fatigue, hot flashes, diarrhoea and constipation, peripheral neuropathy and mouth sores can also be effectively managed with acupuncture.  Patients also find that coming in for weekly acupuncture sessions while they are undergoing cancer treatments helps them sleep better, reduces anxiety and depression, and offers another level of support during their cancer journey.

Research on acupuncture in people with breast cancer and other types of cancer

Much research is being done on how acupuncture can help relieve some of the symptoms of cancer and side effects of cancer treatment. Acupuncture has been shown to help relieve fatigue, hot flashes, nausea, vomiting, and pain.

The most thorough study of acupuncture in breast cancer patients was published in Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000. In the study, 104 women undergoing high-dose chemotherapy were given traditional anti-nausea medication. In addition to taking the medication, the women were randomly chosen to receive 5 days of electroacupuncture (acupuncture in which needles are stimulated with a mild electrical current), acupuncture without an electrical current, or no acupuncture. The women who had acupuncture had significantly fewer nausea episodes than those who didn't.

Another study, completed at Duke University and published in 2002, compared the use of acupuncture to the use of Zofran (chemical name: ondansetron), an anti-nausea medication, before breast cancer surgery to reduce the nausea that can occur after surgery. The acupuncture treatment was found to work better than Zofran at controlling nausea.

In a French study published in 2003, acupuncture was examined in the treatment of cancer-related pain. Patients treated with acupuncture had a 36% reduction in pain after 2 months of acupuncture treatments, compared with a 2% reduction in pain in the patients receiving a placebo type of acupuncture.

In one very preliminary 2004 study at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, acupuncture was shown to reduce post-chemotherapy fatigue by 31% in people with various types of cancer. In 2005, another preliminary study of breast cancer patients in Sweden showed that acupuncture reduced hot flashes by half. While doctors find these results encouraging, they are still very early results and require further study.