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Cancer Health Center

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Acupuncture (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI] - History

The generally accepted history of acupuncture /moxibustion (known as zhen jiu) is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), an indigenous, coherent system of medicine that has been practiced in China for thousands of years. The history of acupuncture/moxibustion in China can be traced back archeologically at least 4,000 years, when bian (stone needles) were in use. During the long history of recorded practice, acupuncture has been applied to many disorders. The earliest written medical text, the ancient classic Huang Di Nei Jing (Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic, second century BC), records nine types of needles and their therapeutic functions.

The dissemination of acupuncture and TCM to other regions dates back centuries: first to Korea and Japan and then to other Asian countries.[1] The use of acupuncture in Europe was documented in the middle of the 16th century.[2] The relatively brief history of acupuncture in the United States can be traced back about 200 years, when Dr. Franklin Bache published a report in the North American Medical and Surgical Journal on his use of acupuncture to treat lower back pain.[3] However, until the 1970s, when U.S.-Chinese diplomatic ties were resumed, the practice of acupuncture in this country was mainly limited to Chinatowns.[4]

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For centuries, Chinese acupuncturists treated cancer symptomatically. Ancient literature and acupuncture textbooks classify cancer as a Zheng syndrome or blood stasis condition and document acupuncture treatment principles and methods.[5,6,7] Since the development of modern conventional medicine, acupuncture has primarily been used clinically as an adjunct to conventional cancer treatment.


  1. Lu GD, Needham J: A history of forensic medicine in China. Med Hist 32 (4): 357-400, 1988.
  2. Peacher WG: Adverse reactions, contraindications and complications of acupuncture and moxibustion. Am J Chin Med (Gard City N Y) 3 (1): 35-46, 1975.
  3. Bache F: Cases illustrative of the remedial effects of acupuncture. North American Medical and Surgical Journal 1: 311-21, 1826.
  4. Ergil KV: China's traditional medicine. In: Micozzi MS, ed.: Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone, 1996, pp 185-223.
  5. Maciocia G: The Practice of Chinese Medicine: The Treatment of Diseases with Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone, 1994.
  6. Maciocia G: Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. New York, NY: Churchill Livingstone, 1997.
  7. Kaptchuk T: The Web That Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. New York, NY: Congdon & Weed, 1983.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: 8/, 015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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