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Acupuncture Eases Cancer Treatments

Jun 30, 2011 10:09AM ● By Rena Zaid

For individuals diagnosed with cancer, the road back to wellness involves not only challenging treatments, but is often also complicated by an exhausting mix of second and third opinions, difficult choices, and endless medical appointments.

Talk about stress! How does someone find a port in this storm? More and more, people diagnosed with cancer are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), which includes acupuncture, to help themselves find balance, address cancer symptoms and side effects of treatment and to gain some control over the journey through cancer.

The ancient Chinese medicine practice of acupuncture is rapidly gaining acceptance by the Western medical community as an effective adjunct to cancer treatment. Studies support acupuncture’s efficacy in cancer symptom management, including anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, pain, nausea and dry mouth.

According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York City, findings from a randomized trial suggest that acupuncture is as effective as standard care for the management of hot flashes in breast cancer patients. It also reduces anxiety. Scientists have found that brain wave readings showed prominent alpha rhythms during acupuncture treatment, signifying a state of deep relaxation. Insomnia can also be relieved through acupuncture. Another study reported greater nighttime melatonin production, which is found to enhance length and quality of sleep, after acupuncture.

National cancer centers such as the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, in Boston, Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic and MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, now offer acupuncture services. Memorial Sloan-Kettering even offers specialized training for acupuncturists working with cancer patients.

The University of Maryland Medical Center identifies CAM as one of the fastest-growing sectors of American health care, but why are so many people seeking it? Perhaps, as the University of Maryland Medical Center has stated, it’s because CAM practitioners treat the whole person, and their philosophy is that health and disease involve a complex interaction of factors, not just treatment of symptoms.

CAM includes a wide variety of modalities, including alternative medical systems like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda; biological medicine such as herbs and vitamins; energy work, including Reiki and healing touch; manual medicine in the form of massage and chiropractic; and mind-body medicine, as represented by yoga, meditation, visualization and prayer.

So what does one look for in an acupuncturist? Licensure and board certification are a must as is strict adherence to clean needle technique. Training and experience in working with people with cancer in very important as there are certain specific issues, such as lymphedema risk, that need to be properly addressed. Your acupuncturist should also have a willingness to communicate with your oncology team as our treatment progresses. Finally, look for an acupuncturist with whom you are a comfortable, and who creates a safe and supportive environment that promotes your healing and relaxation.

As Western medicine moves closer towards an understanding of the power of the mind-body connection, acupuncture may well regain its place as a vital, essential science.

Rena Zaid, M.S., L.Ac., Dipl.Ac. is a licensed, board certified acupuncturist with a private practice in Highland Park. She works as an acupuncturist for the NorthShore University HealthSystem Integrative Medicine team as part of a collaborative program at the Kellogg Cancer Center at Highland Park hospital, and as a volunteer acupuncturist at the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook. Zaid can be reached at North Shore Chinese Medicine, 847-809-1200, or visit

Two local organizations are making acupuncture treatments available free of charge to those with cancer:

Cancer Wellness Center offers a variety of programs and services at no cost for people with cancer. Acupuncture is offered two days a week. Cancer Wellness Center, 215 Revere Dr., Northbrook. For more information and specific program details call 847-509-9595, or visit

NorthShore University HealthSystem’s Integrative Medicine Program offers a limited number of acupuncture treatments at no cost to people with cancer who have a demonstrated financial need. Park Center, 2400 Chestnut, Glenview. Call 847-657-3540 for more information, or visit