New statistics from a controlled randomized trial have shown that following neck dissection, acupuncture led to significant relief of dry mouth, dysfunction, and pain in neck and head cancer patients. This trial was headed by the Chief of the Integrative Medicine Service, at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), Barrie Cassileth, PhD and the Chief of the Head and Neck Medical Oncology Service, David Pfister, MD.
For neck and head cancer patients, neck dissection is a common procedure. This procedure has several forms that vary based on the anticipated side effects and the structures that are removed. One form is radical neck dissection, which is the total extraction of lymph nodes from one side of the neck.
Dr Pfister states that “shoulder mobility and chronic pain problems are commonly felt after neck surgery, which negatively impacts quality of life and employability for certain professions. Modified radical procedures such as nerve-sparing help preserve certain structures without affecting disease control and lessen the occurrence of these problems although they are not able to completely eradicate them” .“ Western methods for dysfunction and pain treatment following neck surgery, unfortunately usually provide limited benefits,” adds Dr Pfister.
The above mentioned trial had 70 patients participating who were randomly assigned treatment that included acupuncture or conventional care (which meant anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy). All patients had their last radiation or surgery treatments at least three months before the start of the trial. The group who received treatment was given four treatments of acupuncture treatment group for about four weeks. Both the acupuncture and conventional care groups were examined using the Constant-Murley scale, which is a measurement of the activities of daily living, function, and pain.
Mobility improved and pain lessened in 39% of the subjects who were treated with acupuncture, compared to only 7% in the conventional care group. Also, the acupuncture group received an extra benefit which was a decrease in severe dry mouth condition or xerostomia, which was a distressing and common problem among cancer sufferers after head and neck radiotherapy. The usual care group experienced none of that.
As with all other treatments, acupuncture, unfortunately, is not for everyone but to those who find it helpful, it can be a great way to treat certain conditions said Dr. Cassileth. He added that “Acupuncture may not treat illness, but it has the ability to control numerous painful and uncomfortable symptoms, such as osteoarthritis, neuropathy, pain, chronic fatigue, depression, anxiety, and shortness of breath.”
She recommends that “cancer sufferers should seek treatment only from licensed acupuncturists who are accredited by the national organization known as the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine or NCCAOM. These practitioners should also have training or experience in handling the problems and symptoms caused by cancer and the therapies for it.”
A vital branch of TCM or Traditional Chinese Medicine in Portland, acupuncture was developed in China over 2,000 years ago. This healing modality involves the activation by needles, pressure, heat, or electricity of a single or multiple predetermined acupoints on the body to produce a therapeutic effect. More than 8 million Americans are reported to avail of acupuncture treatments for the treatment of different conditions each year, according to the CDC or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
One of the most recently discovered uses of acupuncture is its use as a palliative care for cancer symptoms such as chronic fatigue and cancer pain as well as for the relief of postoperative chemotherapy-induced symptoms such as vomiting and nausea.
More and more oncologists are recommending acupuncture for their cancer patients not only for the relief of nausea and pain but also to build the health of the blood and to release stagnant energy.