For the medical oncologist, the main focus is on treating the cancer aggressively, to eliminate the threat to the patient and prevent a recurrence. They know that the patient (and family) is under tremendous emotional stress, but it is not their responsibility to address it, other than referring the patient to counseling or psychiatric care.
There are more and more modalities designed to help the patient cope emotionally (Yoga, massage, meditation, Reiki, counseling …) Acupuncture can help on that level, and I would like to give a quick insight as to how it does that.
Acupuncture is a modality of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It is a medical model that is at least 2500 years old. It is not until the 18th or 19th century that the topics of neurology and psychiatry appear in TCM literature as separate disciplines. The reason is that in TCM thinking the body and the mind, emotions, physical health, and disease are not viewed, or conceived of, as separate. In this model, any physical disturbance will affect the emotional balance, and eventually the spirit. Likewise, any lasting emotional distress will affect the physical health of the person.
Acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system. It causes a shift from the “fight or flight” (stress) response to the relaxation response. It does that by way of a shift in brain chemistry, inducing the secretion of dopamine, endorphins, enkephalines, and dynorphine. It also achieves this by triggering a shift from ortho-sympathetic dominance to para-sympathetic dominance. This can explain how acupuncture can help the patient, during and after breast cancer treatment, deal with the stress and anxiety caused by her condition.
Pain affects our emotions: it is well demonstrated that having pain for more than a week will cause irritability, depression, and fatigue. When I treat a woman who has peripheral neuropathy due to her chemotherapy, and I can restore her nerve function, it immediately makes her feel better emotionally and restores a positive attitude about herself and her health.
Some studies have shown acupuncture’s effectiveness in treating “brain fog” also known as “chemo brain,” improving memory and cognitive function disrupted by chemotherapy.
For estrogen-driven breast cancer, the treatment will often consist of estrogen inhibitors. These often cause night sweats, mood changes, insomnia, and joint pain. Acupuncture has been shown to improve all these symptoms, without adding other drugs to the treatment.
As an acupuncturist, I feel very fortunate that I can treat patients at a cancer center, while they are receiving chemotherapy, or right after their radiation treatment. I know that it makes their experience a lot more tolerable.
Lalou Begue is a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist.
100 Cummings Center, Beverly MA 01915
Acupuncture & Herbal Clinic
Angie’s Spa cancer foundation