Acupuncture to Treat the Effects of Head and Neck Cancer Treatments

My husband, Steve, was given a pretty scary diagnosis of neck cancer in 2002. As you can imagine, news that someone I love had Stage IV cancer was quite a jolt.

Prior to his diagnosis, I had treated a handful of cancer patients for the side effects of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Since then I constantly seek out the latest research about the supportive and complementary role acupuncture can offer so that I can share this with patients undergoing cancer treatment.

In 2010, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York published an article entitled: Acupuncture Helps Ease Side Effects and Symptoms of Some Cancers. Following is an excerpt from that article.

For many of the more than 100,000 individuals diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year in the United States, the cancer spreads from its primary location to lymph nodes in the neck. When this occurs, nerves known as spinal accessory nerves must also be removed along with the affected lymph node, which can lead to shoulder function problems.

A recent study conducted by Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators and published in the April 2010 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology sought to determine if acupuncture could reduce pain and dysfunction in individuals with cancer of the head or neck who had received a surgical dissection of lymph nodes in their neck. The study evaluated 58 patients who were suffering from chronic pain or dysfunction as a result of neck dissection. For four weeks, study participants were randomly assigned into one of two groups: those receiving weekly acupuncture sessions and those receiving standard care, which included physical therapy, as well as pain and anti-inflammatory medication.

The study found that individuals in the group receiving acupuncture experienced significant reductions in pain and dysfunction when compared with individuals receiving standard care. Individuals in the acupuncture group also reported significant improvement in xerostomia, a condition in which patients receiving adjuvant radiation therapy experience extreme dry mouth.

Steve’s cancer journey taught me a lot including it takes a village to support someone undergoing cancer treatment like surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Using acupuncture concurrently can sure help to ease side effects like pain, dry mouth, nausea.