What is it?

Acupuncturists put fine, sterile needles just under the skin into energy channels called meridians to stimulate energy flow. Each meridian has many acupuncture points along its path.

Why use it?

Acupuncture is based on the theory that the placement of needles into certain points of the body unblocks and moves qi (vital energy) to strengthen and reduce physical and emotional symptoms. Research suggests that the needles stimulate the nervous system and the connective tissue in the body, and help produce certain biomolecules such as hormones.

What to expect?

After a consultation, which may include tongue and pulse analysis, the practitioner gently positions sterile needles into points on your body. The needles are left in place for 30 seconds to 30 minutes, and may be stimulated manually by twirling the needles, or by using a machine (called electro-acupuncture). You may feel a tingling or dull aching sensation, but should not feel pain.

Acupuncturists may also implant and cover special needles called press needles, which can remain in place for several days. 

What is the evidence?

The main areas of research into acupuncture for cancer are chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, and it is included in clinical guidelines for dealing with side effects. Evidence suggests acupuncture may also reduce anxiety, fatigue, hot flushes and some types of pain. It’s not clear whether acupuncture helps relieve dry mouth and chemotherapy-induced tingling in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy), but several studies are underway.

Some qualified and registered acupuncturists in Australia have special training and experience in treating cancer-related conditions. Ask your doctor whether this is offered at your treatment centre.

This information was last reviewed in May 2018
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