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Acupuncture May Help Chemotherapy Side Effects

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Still, Shen notes that the placebo effect cannot be entirely dismissed. As for the physical effects of acupuncture, Shen says scientists believe that the ancient Chinese practice may have effects on neurotransmitters -- chemicals in the brain that control the body's response to substances that can cause vomiting.

Shen's study adds to a growing body of evidence. A 1997 NIH Consensus Statement on Acupuncture stated that "promising results have emerged" showing effectiveness of acupuncture in easing nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy.

Ian Cyrus, director of acupuncture and oriental medicine at the center for integrative medicine at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, says the study corroborates what he has learned in his own practice treating cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, and that is that acupuncture works.

"It definitely makes a difference in the quality of life with respect to controlling vomiting," says Cyrus, who has treated thirty chemotherapy patients this year.

"The study clearly demonstrates the benefits of acupuncture when compared to those who are not receiving it," Cyrus tells WebMD. "The key here is that acupuncture does work, and patients receiving acupuncture and drugs receive extra benefit. This should be considered part of the entire treatment strategy for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy."

Cyrus tells WebMD that he believes acupuncture is no longer considered eccentric or out of the mainstream, but has arrived in American medicine. And he says acupuncture alone does not convey the scope of what Oriental medicine has to offer American medicine and western patients. "Acupuncture is only one modality in a family of modalities offered by Oriental medicine," he tells WebMD.

But he says that with conditions like chemotherapy-induced vomiting, it's best used in combination with western style medicine. "Studies like this clearly illustrate that acupuncture does have a significant benefit when used in conjunction with other western pharmaceutical approaches," Cyrus says. "That's the key, it is complementary."

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