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Cancer pain treatment

One of the most common discomforts among people with cancer is pain. Pain can have many causes. For example, a tumour may be pressing on other structures in the body. People who go through cancer treatments such as surgery or radiation may feel pain in the healing or recovery process from the treatments. Some chemotherapy drugs also cause pain, such as bone pain, pain in the hands and feet, etc. Different types of pain include sharp, dull, an electric feeling, numbness or tingling.

Cancer pain treatment

Pain can be exhausting to deal with and even disturb our sleep, leading to even more fatigue. Pain experts agree that there is a relationship between our physical pain and our emotions. Being in constant pain is commonly related to low mood. On the other hand, emotional stress, anxiety, tension or depression can also contribute to our subjective experience of pain, making it seem worse than the actual tissue damage.

One of the most common uses of acupuncture is for pain. Research show that patients experience less pain and more mobility with acupuncture, and even that regular acupuncture use can decrease the need for opioid painkillers. Acupuncture alone may used to manage pain in some early stage cancers, such as after surgery. It may also be used alone successfully for some peripheral neuropathies (numbness and/or tingling in the hands and feet, often caused by cancer treatments).

In people taking ongoing therapies, such as breast cancer patients using hormone therapies (such as letrozole and other aromatase inhibitors), acupuncture has been shown to decrease side effects such as bone and joint pain. Acupuncture can also be used alongside other pain management strategies, including painkillers, in situations where cancer has spread. Cancer patients also experience non-cancer-related pain and that pain (such as musculo-skeletal injuries, strains, arthritis, etc.) often responds very well to acupuncture.[1-4]

Cancer pain treatment

Chinese herbal medicine has also been widely reported to help with cancer pain. For example, a case report published in Medicine by one of Pauline Hwang’s mentors at the Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, described a woman who has been treated by Chinese herbal medicine alone for multiple myeloma over the past 18 years. The multiple myeloma was causing her pain, numbness and a variety of other symptoms. The woman continues to live with minimal symptoms today.[5]

For situations of advanced, late stage metastatic cancer, I suggest you work with palliative care doctors first to adjust your pain medications to get rid of as much pain as possible and especially allow you to sleep and move around as much as possible. At our clinic, I can help you arrange a referral for medical cannabis if you wish. On top of these medications, acupuncture has been shown to help delay the need to increase opioid medications, to reduce the need for breakthrough or rescue painkiller doses (not your regular dose, but ones you take in between in case the pain is getting out of control), as well as to help with stress, tension, sleep, digestion and appetite which all play a role in reducing suffering and improving the patient’s quality of life.


[1] Wu, Xinyin, Vincent CH Chung, Edwin P. Hui, Eric TC Ziea, Bacon FL Ng, Robin ST Ho, Kelvin KF Tsoi, Samuel YS Wong, and Justin CY Wu. “Effectiveness of Acupuncture and Related Therapies for Palliative Care of Cancer: Overview of Systematic Reviews.” Scientific Reports 5 (November 26, 2015): 16776.https://doi.org/10.1038/srep16776.

[2] Dos Santos, S., Hill, N., Morgan, A., Smith, J., Thai, C., Cheifetz, O., 2010. Acupuncture for Treating Common Side Effects Associated With Breast Cancer Treatment: A Systematic Review. Medical Acupuncture 22, 81–97. https://doi.org/10.1089/acu.2009.0730

[3] Garcia, M. Kay, Jennifer McQuade, Robin Haddad, Sonya Patel, Richard Lee, Peiying Yang, J. Lynn Palmer, and Lorenzo Cohen. “Systematic Review of Acupuncture in Cancer Care: A Synthesis of the Evidence.” Journal of Clinical Oncology 31, no. 7 (March 1, 2013): 952–60. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2012.43.5818.

[4] Chung, V.C., Wu, X., Hui, E.P., Ziea, E.T., Ng, B.F., Ho, R.S., Tsoi, K.K., Wong, S.Y., Wu, J.C., 2015. Effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine for cancer palliative care: overview of systematic reviews with meta-analyses. Scientific Reports 5, 18111.https://doi.org/10.1038/srep18111

[5] Tian M, Huang H, 2017. The therapeutic effect of modified Huangqi Guizhi Wuwu Tang for multiple myeloma: An 18-year follow-up case report. Medicine 96:49(e9074).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5728936/pdf/medi-96-e9074.pdf

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