Acupuncture may help in easing of radiation side effects.





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Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that involves piercing strategic points on the body with needles. This is a relatively painless procedure and is performed by a licensed acupuncturist. While this practice has been used in China for over 2,000 years, its use in the United States is relatively new. Acupuncture is one element of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which includes other modalities such as herbal therapies and massage. It is difficult for people born and raised in a culture like the United States to understand how Traditional Chinese Medicine works because it is a complex and complicated medical system that uses theories and practices that Westerners are not used to. For this reason, acceptance by the medical profession has been slow. However, consistent reports of success using acupuncture for specific purposes have gained attention. One of these purposes involves helping ease side effects of radiation in cancer.

One side effect of radiation therapy is called xerostomia. This is condition is commonly known as dry mouth. Symptoms can include dry throat, cracked lips, mouth sores, and can have effects on ability to speak, taste, or swallow. When the salivary glands are exposed to radiation, xerostomia can occur. A recent investigation looked into the possible outcome of acupuncture in treating this disorder.

Researchers used an acupuncture treatment where eight needles were inserted into both ears and the index finger of the patient. Patients were also given a lozenge to stimulate the salivary glands. Fifty participants were involved and each had an average of five treatments. The response of these treatments was measured by the xerostomia inventory with a mean follow up of 224 days after the first treatment. In 35 patients (70%), an improvement of 10% or more was seen with the acupuncture treatment. What's more, 26% of the individuals demonstrated improvement over three months after the treatment. The authors concluded, "Acupuncture palliates xerostomia for many patients. A regimen of three to four weekly treatments followed by monthly sessions is now recommended, although some patients achieve lasting response without further therapy."1


1. Johnstone PS. Acupuncture for xerostomia. Cancer. Feb 2002;94(4) 1151-1156.