Acupuncture as a complementary therapy for cancer

Today’s article is from Hannah O’Connell, an Acupuncture Therapist based in Ennis, Co Clare. Hannah also worked as part of the holistic therapy team at the ARC Cancer Support Centres in Dublin. Here she shares how acupuncture might benefit you as a complementary therapy for cancer.

In both my private practice and as part of the holistic therapy team at the ARC Cancer Support Centres, I have seen the many benefits of using acupuncture to alleviate the symptoms of cancer and its treatment side effects.

Although undoubtedly effective, the standard medical treatments in cancer care are aggressive and cause numerous unwanted side effects as well as a lowered immune system. Acupuncture is increasingly being used as a complementary therapy in cancer treatments for its use in pain relief, reducing side effects, accelerating recovery and improving quality of life. Acupuncture is used as an “integrative” or “complementary” treatment. This means that acupuncture is used along with conventional treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer. It is entirely safe to use during treatment and does not interact with medications.

How can Acupuncture help?

Acupuncture provides a holistic approach to healthcare for people with cancer. It can alleviate many of the concerns that come up during and after chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Your acupuncture treatment is tailor-made for you and what you are experiencing at the time you present to your practitioner, whether it is physical, mental or emotional.

In my practice, the associated side effects I would treat most commonly with Acupuncture and have shown to be most effective are:

  • Bowel and digestion issues
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Night sweats and hot flashes
  • Pain management
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Recovery from surgery
  • Stress, anxiety and depression


Whether it be the treatment and its side effects, relentless hospital appointments, family issues, body changes, anger, sadness or a combination of the above, dealing with cancer can leave you with feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. Preliminary studies have found that acupuncture may reduce both depression and anxiety in cancer patients.

The immune system takes a huge battering as a result of treatment and unfortunately infections and what could ordinarily be seen as a simple cold can cause chaos for a person already weakened by treatment. Acupuncture can play a huge role here throughout treatment and after, helping to protect and build the system back up. Human studies on the effect of acupuncture on the immune system of cancer patients showed that it improved immune system response, including increasing the number of white blood cells.

Your practitioner will also discuss appropriate dietary changes which can be of help. Chinese medicine, of which acupuncture is a branch, has several tools by which to offer support. The emphasis is on strengthening and nourishing – the stronger our energy, the better able we are to resist disease and to have reduced adverse effects of treatment. Certainly, a healthy diet specific to the individual, acupuncture and energy exercises (tai chi or qi gong) are all of benefit.

Always remember to find a registered practitioner in your area so you know you’re in safe hands. To find an acupuncturist, visit

For more on Hannah, visit her website here or her Facebook page here.


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