Pain Control and Help for Nausea in Cancer Treatment Without Needles

March 28, 2011

I have often extolled the value of acupuncture having benefited hugely from it myself for back pain and seen its value with friends for pain control during childbirth. It has also been successfully tried for treating nausea in cancer patients, however, I know that needles are not the answer for everyone, however attracted they may be to try it out.

Just for them there is great news from the Karolinska Institutet and Linköping University in Sweden that shows that ‘simulated’ needles are apparently just as effective as ‘real’ acupuncture.

Cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy often suffer debilitating nausea and a trial of 277 patients found that when the group were randomly assigned traditional or placebo (without needles) acupuncture or just the standard medications for nausea the results surprised them.

Patients in both the acupuncture groups, real or simulated, suffered significantly less nausea than patients, who received only standard medications. Anna Enblom, researcher at the Osher Centre for Integrative Medicine at Karolinska Institutet commented: “The beneficial effects seem not to come from the traditional acupuncture method, but probably from the patients’ positive expectations and the extra care that the treatment entails.”

Which is indeed one of the standard arguments used against most ‘alternative’ therapies as it is perceived only as a placebo effect. However I would argue that the interaction, concern and care act physiologically as well as emotionally on the immune system and stimulates the patient’s own healing process.

This is borne out by the statistics of the research which show that of the patients who had had some form of acupuncture, only 37 felt nausea and seven per cent vomited, compared with 63 per cent and 15 per cent of the standard care group. The patients’ expectations seemed to be important for the effect: 81 per cent of those who expected to feel ill did so, in contrast to only 50 per cent of those who did not.

Dr Emblom makes an valuable observation here that I would love to see other doctors take on board: “It’s important to remember that the effects of the treatment are valuable to the patients, even if they can be said to have been caused by unspecific factors, such as the manner in which the patients were taken care of and their positive expectations.”

One of the constant refrains I have is that your attitude affects your health, and this study seems to confirm that it also affects your treatment and how you respond to it.


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