Cancer, Acupuncture & Costs of Treatment

Cancer is one of the leading medical problems faced by developed countries today. Caused by abnormal cell growth and replication, the condition is hugely variable and therefore difficult to both diagnose and treat. Most of the cancer therapies available today are fairly aggressive and potent, causing severe side effects that take a physical and mental toll on sufferers, and many different techniques are employed to help cancer patients cope with both treatment and the disease itself.

Acupuncture offers a potential solution to many of the complicated side effects and symptoms of cancer, and in this article we look at how it can be used to aid cancer patients, as well as where you can receive acupuncture and at what cost.

Why is acupuncture useful to cancer patients?

Acupuncture can offer a non-pharmaceutical solution to many of the side effects of cancer therapy and some of the symptoms of cancer. It is important to point out that acupuncture does not treatment for the cancer itself, and that you should pursue the appropriate medical care regardless of whether or not you are making use of acupuncture.

Many cancer patients suffer from pain, particularly as a consequence of surgical interventions to remove tumours. In these cases, pain management often involves pharmaceutical analgesics, however there are instances where an alternative method is needed. While not conclusively effective, acupuncture has shown promise in trials investigating its ability to relieve post-operative pain.

Nausea and vomiting are two very well-known and severe side effects of cancer treatment. Both are side effects of many chemotherapies, which are drugs that often target cells that grow and divide rapidly like cancer cells do. Unfortunately there are other classes of cells in the body which also grow rapidly, these include cells of the intestines which suffer during chemotherapy. The damage caused to cells of the small intestine causes the characteristic and unpleasant nausea and vomiting that affects cancer patients receiving cancer treatments. These side effects have been shown to respond well to acupuncture.

Breathlessness is experienced by many cancer patients as a consequence of either tumours in the lungs or treatment. Large tumours can impair breathing, but many cancer treatments can either damage the lungs in some way, also causing breathlessness. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can damage cells in the bone marrow, the part of the body responsible for producing blood cells. The result is a reduction in the number of blood cells circulating throughout the body, and ultimately a person is left struggling to supply their body with the oxygen it needs, hence, breathlessness. Acupuncture has shown some promise in addressing this issue as well, however the evidence in this case is much less clear, with some studies reporting success while others stating that they have not noticed any significant benefit to the use of acupuncture as a treatment for breathlessness.

Fatigue is another one of the many issues cancer patients must contend with. In many cases it is caused by the same reduction in blood cell numbers that can cause breathlessness. This reduction in red blood cells is a condition called anaemia, and fatigue is very much a consequence of anaemia. This tiredness can also be caused by advanced cancers, or tumours affecting the elderly. Regardless of its cause, fatigue can sap the strength and will of anybody, let alone someone contending with all the other complications and difficulties of cancer. Fatigue is also something that can be quite difficult to treat, and so the possibility that acupuncture may benefit cancer patients suffering from it is a promising one. A large scale trial into acupuncture’s effects on fatigue is currently underway, and the hope is that it may lead to some more concrete conclusions about the efficacy of the treatment.

Neuropathy and hot flushes are also commonplace side effects of cancer treatment that can potentially benefit from acupunctural treatment. The latter is caused by cancers treated by agents that can cause a massive drop in testosterone levels, e.g. breast and prostate cancers. These changes cause characteristic hot flushes that also affect women going through menopause. Some evidence indicates that acupuncture can effectively treat hot flushes, providing relief from what can be an unpleasant condition.

Neuropathies occur when certain biological and chemotherapies damage nerves, the cells responsible for carrying signals to and from the brain and spinal cord. The most common kind of neuropathy affecting cancer patients is peripheral neuropathy, a condition which can cause tingling, loss of sensation and fine motor control, and in some cases pain in the extremities.  Acupuncture has shown some success in trials investigating whether or not the treatment can effectively provide relief from neuropathy.

As this section shows, acupuncture can provide many potential benefits to cancer patients, particularly those struggling with the standard management of many of the symptoms and side effects of cancer and cancer treatment.

If you do want to go ahead with acupuncture to manage a cancer related problem, then it is important that you consult your doctor beforehand. The management of cancer is quite complex, and there might be contraindications to the use of acupuncture. People with low platelet or white blood cell counts, for example, are not considered suitable for acupunctural treatment.

Where can I get acupuncture from to help with my cancer?

Acupuncture is available from many practices in the UK, including many cancer hospitals and hospices. The most important consideration when seeking an acupuncturist is ensuring that he or she is appropriately qualified and experienced. In safety evaluations of acupuncture, adverse effects are almost always at the hands of an inadequately trained acupuncturist.

It is also important to find a practitioner who has some experience in dealing with cancer patients and their problems. This is particularly important if certain herbs are going to be used, as these can sometimes interact with cancer treatment drugs and either interfere with their workings or cause adverse effects.

There is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK, but there are professional bodies to whom acupuncturists can apply for membership. These organisations ensure that members maintain certain standards of practice, and so finding an acupuncturist who is a member of such an organisation is a good way to ensure the quality of the treatment you receive.

How much does acupuncture cost for cancer patients?

At present most acupuncture will have to be paid for by the patient his or herself, but if more concrete evidence supporting the practice is unveiled in the future the treatment may become more readily available through the NHS. At present it is possible to get some acupuncture through certain professionals in the NHS, including GPs and physiotherapists who have received the necessary training to safely and effectively perform acupunctural treatments. It is estimated that about 7,000 healthcare professionals in the NHS can offer acupuncture at present, and on top of these there are about 5,500 acupuncturists whose services are available across the UK.

Private treatments will usually involve an initial consultation, followed by a set of treatment appointments. Costs will vary, but you can expect to pay between £40-80 for consultations and anywhere between £30-70 for subsequent sessions.

Some healthcare plans offered by employers can cover acupuncture sessions, so it may be worth looking into such a plan if you have one.

« When can and when can’t acupuncture be used to help cancer patients? Acupuncture for anxiety »