Acupuncture has a long track record of treating the severe pain associated with cancer. A new acupuncture study at MSKCC shows that both electroacupuncture and auricular (ear) acupuncture are effective for reducing pain from cancer.
This acupuncture study is exciting. It had 360 patients which is very large for an acupuncture research study. Hopefully this will influence insurance companies to increase coverage for patients living with cancer.
Acupuncture Helps with Cancer pain
The study showed that both electroacupuncture and auricular acupuncture helped patients relieve cancer pain. However, the electroacupuncture was stronger for pain relief.
The patients in the study received acupuncture for 12 weeks. One of the amazing aspects of acupuncture is that it helps relieve pain long after the treatment course finishes. The researchers in this study followed up on the patients 12 weeks after it finished and the pain was still reduced.
What is ElectroAcupuncture for Pain?
Electro-acupuncture uses a small amount of electrical stimulation on specifically chosen acupuncture points. Acupuncture relieves pain in many ways. The electroacupuncture stimulation enhances the pain relief through natural pain relieving actions of the nervous system. Electroacupuncture stimulates the release of natural pain relievers and endorphins within the brain and central nervous system. Electroacupuncture also regulates the way the body feels pain which may be one reason why acupuncture reduces pain long after treatment has stopped.
In my experience, there are a number of factors which influence the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture including choice of acupuncture points to stimulate, frequency of the electric stimulation, and length of time for the treatment. I will personalize the treatment for each patient based upon the nature and type of pain they are experiencing.
What is Auricular (Ear) Acupuncture for Pain?
Auricular acupuncture is acupuncture on points on the ear lobe. The ear has acupuncture points that correspond to all different parts of the body: the back, stomach, uterus, brain, neck, legs, etc. The points are a map of the whole body.
There are a number of ways to stimulate the ear acupuncture points. Often, we will include them in a regular acupuncture or electroacupuncture treatment for enhancing pain relief, addressing anxiety, or improving digestion. Sometimes for severe pain, such as cancer pain, we can place very small needles that are taped on. This study used the taped needles which stay in the ear throughout the week.
This technique also helped reduce pain, but not as strongly as the electroacupuncture. Many of my patients will use both techniques to relieve the cancer pain.