Acupuncture and Cancer Treatment

OTC_acupunctureAt the Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic our Registered Massage Therapists hold a dual certification in Massage and Acupuncture. They are trained to apply acupuncture by combining an evidence-based approach with Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncture may be used as a treatment on its own or in conjunction with your massage therapy.

Acupuncture is helpful in relieving pain, promoting healing and creating a general sense of well-being. It can be beneficial at many different stages of healing and is used to improve the symptoms from chemotherapy and radiation treatment. We recommend acupuncture for:

  • Cancer-related pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Restoring a general sense of wellness
  • Increasing energy levels
  • Muscle pain and dysfunction
  • Joint pain
  • Hot flashes

 How does Acupuncture work?

Western scientific research has proposed mechanisms for the effect of acupuncture on pain relief. One of the theories is based on the well-regarded gate control theory of pain originated by Melzack & Wall in 1965. This theory proposes that one type of sensory input i.e. low back pain, could be inhibited in the central nervous system by applying another type of sensory input i.e. needling. There is also evidence that acupuncture may stimulate the production of biochemicals (endorphins, serotonin, and acetylcholine) that have a pain relieving effect[1].

When should I have acupuncture treatment?

There is increasing scientific evidence to show that acupuncture is effective in treating the following conditions:

  • Low back & neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Wrist & hand pain
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches

Who will I see?

When you work with any of our Registered Massage Therapist you will be treated by a highly educated professional who has extensive post-graduate experience. Each therapist is a graduate of McMasters University Acupuncture certification course and has obtained an advanced level of training.

What can I expect at my appointment?

The initial assessment is scheduled for one hour and includes a physical assessment as well as a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) assessment. The TCM assessment looks at physical symptoms and includes tongue diagnosis. Once the appropriate meridians are determined sterile, single use acupuncture needles will be inserted along these ancient locations based on organs. The needles are left in for 30 minutes while you rest.

It is always important to check with your oncologist to determine if there are any concerns before starting any type of complementary or alternative treatment. Your therapist should know your full medical history including blood work, and drug history. This information should be updated at every visit, especially if something has changed.

Are there any reasons I should not have acupuncture treatment?

There are several conditions where acupuncture should not be applied or should be applied with caution.

Blood clotting disorders:

  • Blood clotting issues are common with leukaemia and other haematological concerns i.e. haemophilia
  • Before beginning treatment it is preferable that you have a platelet count of over 20,000
  • Caution needs to be exercised with anticoagulants i.e. warfarin, and the needles should not be inserted into the joints

Low white blood cells: Acupuncture should not be used if you have an increased  risk of infection

Unstable spine: Needles cannot be inserted in the local area of an unstable spine if there is a risk of spinal cord injury

Skin conditions:

  • If you have an open wound, or an infection, the needles should not be inserted into this area
  • If you have lymphedema needles should not be inserted into the affected limb

Prosthetic implants or reconstruction: Needles should not be inserted into a prosthesis i.e. breast implant or into an area of reconstruction i.e. latissimus dorsi flap

Post bone marrow transplant: Following a bone marrow transplant, a 6-12 months waiting period is recommended before starting acupuncture treatment

What should I do after my acupuncture treatment?

Following a specific protocol after treatment can help to maximize the effects of your treatment. Here’s a list of things we find are helpful to do and to avoid after acupuncture:

  • Avoid activities that require exertion for up to two hours after treatment.
  • Try to rest when you get home from your treatment.
  • If you are being treated for pain, try to avoid strenuous activity for two days after treatment. This is important even if you are pain free.
  • Take your pain pills or other medication as directed by your doctor. It is helpful to keep a record of the amount taken to determine if the acupuncture is altering your need for medication.
  • Avoid any alcohol or caffeine for two hours after treatment.

What to expect

Some people will feel immediate relief whereas others may take a few hours or even a few days to experience a benefit. You may require a few treatments before you feel the benefit. If you are not feeling some improvement after several treatments you should discuss this with your therapist.

Occasionally symptoms become worse before they improve. Typically this will last only a day or two. If your symptoms persist for more than 2 days you should contact your therapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic.

Does acupuncture have side effects?

  • Drowsiness may occur after treatment and you should not drive until it passes
  • There may be minor bleeding or bruising
  • Pain during treatment is rare
  • Occasionally symptoms get worse after treatment. When this happens it is important to let your therapist know.
  • Some people faint from needles however this is most likely at the first appointment.

How many treatments will I need?

The number of treatments will vary with each individual and with the condition being treated. For complex or long standing conditions, one or two treatments a week for several weeks may be recommended. For acute problems you may only need a few treatments to see a benefit.


[1] Chu et al., 1979; Anderson, 1993; Stux & Pmoeranz, 1998).