Acupuncture helps cancer treatment

Recent studies have shown that acupuncture can help control several symptoms and side effects — such as pain, fatigue, dry mouth, nausea, and vomiting — associated with a variety of cancers and their treatments.

Experts from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Integrative Medicine Service, who have conducted or reviewed many of these studies, recommend that cancer patients interested in acupuncture seek a certified or licensed acupuncturist who has training or past experience working with individuals with cancer. Acupuncture's use for the treatment of symptoms and side effects of a variety of cancers has been investigated in several studies:

Head and neck cancer.

A 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.

Leukemia.

Many people with leukemia try additional treatments outside their standard care because they hope to manage symptoms and, in some cases, to improve their treatment outcome. In a commentary in the September 2009 issue of Expert Reviews Anticancer Therapies, investigators from Memorial Sloan-Kettering examined the results from available studies testing the effectiveness of such approaches. They report that among the complementary therapies used to decrease symptoms and side effects, acupuncture is significantly beneficial for symptom management.

For some leukemia patients, cancer chemotherapy drugs can damage the peripheral nervous system (peripheral neuropathy), causing pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, and muscle weakness in various parts of the body, especially in the hands and feet. In some cases, doctors must reduce the chemotherapy dose in order to prevent the neuropathy from progressing further. Acupuncture has been found to decrease these difficult neuropathy symptoms, which allows the maximum amount of chemotherapy to be used and, thereby increases the patient's chance for a successful outcome.

Acupuncture also is known to reduce the effects of nausea caused by chemotherapy agents used to treat leukemia. Research has shown that timing the acupuncture sessions 1-2 days before chemotherapy infusion and continued weekly throughout the chemotherapy regimen produces the best results. In addition, the authors note that acupuncture has been proven safe for patients receiving the anticoagulation drugs Coumadin or heparin during their leukemia treatment.

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New benchmark tool available for hospices

A new tool from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization gives hospice decision-makers the information they need to compare their program against like-sized hospices.

The National Summary of Hospice Care — Peer Reports provides reports that include information on referral sources, length of service, payer mix, staffing characteristics, patient visits, and volunteer services. Reports are available by agency-size and type and can be purchased by sending a request to nds@nhpco.org. Providers who submitted data to the 2009 National Data Set can purchase the Peer Reports set for $150. Non-participants can purchase the Peer Reports set for $300.