Acupuncture May Help Chemotherapy Side Effects

| October 1, 2012 | 0 Comments | 9 views

Dec. 5, 2000 -- Nausea and vomiting -- never a lot of fun --can be among the most distressing and disabling side effects of chemotherapyfor breast cancer patients. Now, researchers at the NIH have shown that avariation of the traditional Oriental medical practice of acupuncture, alongwith commonly used medications, may help.

"The results of our study suggest that among patientsreceiving high-dose chemotherapy, electroacupuncture was more effective incontrolling vomiting than just medication alone," says Joannie Shen, MD,MPH, research associate at the NIH, whose study appears in the Dec. 6, 2000edition of TheJournal of the American Medical Association.Electroacupuncture uses a mild electric current passed through traditionalacupuncture needles placed lightly into specific points on the body.

However, it's not known from the study whether acupuncturewould be as effective in women receiving standard dose-chemotherapy, she tellsWebMD.

In the study, over 100 breast cancer patients receivinghigh-dose chemotherapy all received drugs commonly used to control nausea andvomiting. But one group of women also received electroacupuncture in additionto the drugs, and another group received drugs and minimal needling -- a kindof "sham" acupuncture intended to mimic the real thing. A third groupreceived only the drugs and no acupuncture, according to the report.

Shen and her colleagues found that those women who had receivedelectroacupuncture had fewer vomiting episodes than the women who only receiveddrugs. Even the women who got the "minimal needling" did somewhatbetter than the women who only got drugs, she reports.

That suggests that some of the response to acupuncture could beexplained by the "placebo effect" -- the concept that some patientswill get better even without getting the real treatment, perhaps just fromreceiving more attention from caregivers. However, the acupuncture and theminimal needling was terminated at five days, and when Shen and colleagues wentback to look at how the patients were faring on the ninth day, there were nolonger significant differences between the three groups.

That's important, Shen says, because it supports the idea thatacupuncture really had an effect on the body. "We were skeptical at thebeginning, thinking that maybe it was just the extra attention, so that's whywe did the follow-up," Shen tells WebMD. "It's the strongest part ofour study."

Still, Shen notes that the placebo effect cannot be entirelydismissed. As for the physical effects of acupuncture, Shen says scientistsbelieve that the ancient Chinese practice may have effects on neurotransmitters-- chemicals in the brain that control the body's response to substances thatcan cause vomiting.

Shen's study adds to a growing body of evidence. A 1997 NIHConsensus Statement on Acupuncture stated that "promising results haveemerged" showing effectiveness of acupuncture in easing nausea and vomitingafter surgery and chemotherapy.

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