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Acupuncture May Lessen Post-Op Pain, Nausea

Study Shows Ancient Chinese Practice Is as Effective as Drugs After Breast Surgery

The Point of Acupuncture continued...

Technically, this electrostimulation is not acupuncture, because no needles were used to pierce the skin, says Barrie R. Cassileth, PhD, author of the widely respected Alternative Medicine Handbook: The Complete Reference Guide to Alternative and Complementary Therapies and chief of integrative medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which runs an acupuncture research center.

"What this study has done is do away with the needle and just stimulate the acupuncture point in a randomized clinical trial; that's an advantage to people who may be fearful of needles, and important to medical research," says Cassileth, who was not involved in Gan's research. "What this paper does is increase our confidence on the feasibility and efficacy of using acupuncture-like techniques in treatment for a variety of symptoms."

In addition to nausea and some types of pain, including headaches and menstrual cramps, acupuncture has been shown in various studies to help treat asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, and addiction to tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.

Having Breast Surgery? Take Note

While Gan's study only included breast cancer patients, he notes that some 70% of women who get any type of breast surgery requiring general anesthesia suffer from PONV -- a much higher rate than other types of surgery. Statistically, women are three times more likely than men to have PONV after major surgery, but the reasons aren't clear.

"The anesthesia is one component, but there seems to be something unique about breast procedures -- whether done for breast cancer or cosmetic enhancement -- that makes them very high risk for post-operative nausea and vomiting," Gan tells WebMD. "It hasn't been well studied, but may be due to nerve connections in the breast. The Chinese believe there is a direct connection of these nerves from the breast to the brain.

"Since women getting breast procedures are at such high risk of PONV and often suffer post-operative pain, my recommendation is that they consider acupuncture or a similar therapy to reduce some of these side effects," he says.

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