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

This complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) information summary provides an overview of the use of acupuncture as a treatment for individuals with cancer or cancer-related disorders. The summary includes a brief history of acupuncture practice, a review of laboratory and animal studies, the results of clinical observations and trials, and possible side effects of acupuncture therapy. Information presented in some sections of the summary can also be found in tables located at the end of those sections.

This summary contains the following key information:

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  • As part of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced in China and other Asian countries for thousands of years.
  • Acupuncture is defined as the application of stimulation such as needling, moxibustion, cupping, and acupressure on specific sites of the body known as acupuncture points.
  • Acupuncture has been practiced in the United States for about 200 years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the acupuncture needle as a medical device in 1996.
  • Acupuncture is used to treat a wide range of illnesses and ailments, including hot flashes, xerostomia, and neuropathy. Cancer patients use it for fatigue, pain management, and control of nausea and vomiting (N/V).
  • Laboratory and animal studies to explore the mechanisms of acupuncture for cancer treatment have focused mainly on the role of acupuncture in the activation of immune functions, such as increasing blood cell count and enhancing lymphocyte and natural killer cell activity.
  • The aim of most acupuncture clinical observation and clinical trials in cancer patients has been to evaluate the effects of acupuncture on symptom management.
  • The most convincing research data on the effects of acupuncture in cancer patients have emerged from studies of the management of chemotherapy -induced N/V.

Many of the medical and scientific terms used in this summary are hypertext linked (at first use in each section) to the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, which is oriented toward nonexperts. When a linked term is clicked, a definition will appear in a separate window.

Reference citations in some PDQ CAM information summaries may include links to external Web sites that are operated by individuals or organizations for the purpose of marketing or advocating the use of specific treatments or products. These reference citations are included for informational purposes only. Their inclusion should not be viewed as an endorsement of the content of the Web sites, or of any treatment or product, by the PDQ Cancer CAM Editorial Board or the National Cancer Institute.

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
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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