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Acupuncture Care in our cancer patients

Human and veterinary studies have demonstrated the benefit of acupuncture for conditions including: pain 6-9, immune dysregulation and inflammation10,11, and nausea12,13. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published a consensus report summarizing research findings which confirmed positive benefit on the effectiveness of acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced nausea as well as post-operative pain secondary to tumor removal in people5. This report sparked major interest in acupuncture as a complement to physician-based Western Medicine. Since 1998 there has been a surge in funding to support research evaluating the molecular mechanisms and the clinical benefits of acupuncture14. As more and more positive research is published, Western medicine practitioners are gaining confidence in using this modality as a tool in their tool-belt. It is not surprising that the top tier, world-renowned U.S. Cancer Institutes such as, Dana-Farber in Boston, Sloan-Kettering in New York, and MD Anderson in Houston, all have integrative medicine programs closely associated with their Cancer Centers.
Acupuncture has three key elements: acupuncture point, stimulating method, and therapeutic effect. Research has demonstrated that the acupuncture point has high electrical conductivity, low electrical resistance, and contains large numbers of arterioles, lymphatic vessels, nerve endings, and mast cells6. The most common stimulating techniques involve needle alone or electroacupuncture (use of low level electricity connected to a needle in an acupoint). Acupuncture modulates the activity of peripheral and central neural pathways6,9-11. As the point is stimulated, there is activation of peripheral and central neural pathways, leading to an effect on hormones, cytokines, neurotransmitters, and other chemical mediators in the body6,9-11.
Research from physician-based medicine supports the use of this modality for the human oncology patient. One of many studies was chosen to be summarized. This study is a three-armed, randomized, prospective clinical trial published in The Journal of the American Medical Association13. Women with high grade mammary carcinoma, treated with high dose myeloablative chemotherapy, were randomly assigned to three separate groups: anti-emetic alone, anti-emetic with electroacupuncture, anti-emetic with acupuncture at non-therapeutic locations on the body. The study found that women in the anti-emetic with electroacupuncture group had significantly less vomiting episodes compared to women in the two other groups (anti-emetic alone and anti-emetic with non-therapeutic acupuncture)
demonstrating the benefit of acupuncture for alleviating pain6, 15-18 and nausea12 for the veterinary patient. One study evaluated the potential for acupuncture to reduce signs of nausea and vomiting in healthy dogs after injection of a known emetic substance, morphine. Koh, et. al. published their findings in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association12. 222 healthy dogs were prospectively randomized into one of six treatment groups: injection of saline solution, injection of maropitant citrate, injection of acepromazine maleate, electroacupuncture treatment at 1 acupoint, electroacupuncture treatment at 5 acupoints, or a non-therapeutic electroacupoint treatment. Morphine was administered 20 minutes after these treatments. Vomiting and other signs of nausea were recorded for 20 minutes after morphine injection. Results of the study showed that the incidence of vomiting was significantly lower in the maropitant group (37.8%) compared to the saline (75.7%) and non-therapeutic acupuncture (86.5%) groups. The number of vomiting events in the maropitant (21), acepromazine (38), 1-acupoint (35) and 5-acupoint (34) groups was significantly lower than in the saline solution (88) and non-therapeutic acupuncture (109) groups. Mean nausea scores for the saline solution, maropitant, and non-therapeutic acupuncture groups increased significantly after morphine administration, whereas those for the acepromazine, 1-acupoint electroacupuncture, and 5-acupoint electroacupuncture groups did not. The study concluded that maropitant treatment was associated with a lower incidence of vomiting, compared with control treatments. In addition they concluded that the acepromazine and electroacupuncture treatment seemed to prevent an increase in nausea scores following morphine administration in this subset of studied dogs.
In veterinary medicine, there are many research reports supporting the use of acupuncture for controlling pain due to orthopedic and/or neurologic cause6, 15-18 and controlling nausea due to morphine injection12, however there is a paucity of data evaluating the benefits of acupuncture specifically for the veterinary oncology patient. The good news is that there is a large amount of data in the human literature which supports acupuncture as a beneficial adjunct therapy to traditional treatment for the cancer patient. In addition, there is research to support the use of acupuncture for one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy in dogs, vomiting and/or nausea, as described above in the research report by Koh, et al. The goal of acupuncture is to support the patient while living with and receiving treatment for cancer. As pioneers in veterinary medicine, we must look to our physician colleagues for ways to advance our field. By applying what we know from human medicine to the veterinary patient, veterinarians are able to further develop the field, embark on potential clinical research projects to help improve the scientific database, and most importantly, provide well rounded care for our cancer patients. The future is bright!

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11. IL-10 Cytokine Released from M2 Macrophages is Crucial for Analgesic and Anti-inflammatory Effects of Acupuncture in a Model of Inflammatory Muscle Pain. Molecular Neurobiology. da Silva MD, et al. 2015. 51(1): pg 19.
12. Effects of Maropitant, Acepromazine, and Electroacupuncture on Vomiting Associated with Administration of Morphine in Dogs. J Am Veterinary Medical Assoc. Koh RB, et al. 2014. 244 (7): pg 820.
13. Electroacupuncture for Control of Myeloablative Chemotherapy-Induced Emesis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Am Medical Assoc. Shen J, et al. 2000. 284: pg 2755.
14. The Value of Acupuncture in Cancer Care. Hematology Oncology Clinics North Am. Lu W, Dean-Clower E, et al. 2008. 22(4): pg 631.
15. Effectiveness of Electroacupuncture Analgesia Compared with Opioid Administration in a Dog Model: Pilot Study. British J Anaesthesia. Groppetti, D., et al. 2011. 107: pg 612.
16. Comparison of Decompressive Surgery, Electroacupuncture, and Decompressive Surgery followed by Electroacupuncture for the Treatment of Dogs with Intervertebral Disk Disease with Long-Standing Severe Neurologic Deficits. Journal Am Vet Med Assoc. Joaquim, et al. 2010. 236 (11): pg 1225.
17. Outcome of 119 dogs and cats treated at the acupuncture unit of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Science of the University of São Paulo State. Brazilian J Veterinary Research and Animal Science. Angeli, et al. 2005. 42 (1): pg 68.
18. Evaluation of electroacupuncture treatment for thoracolumbar intervertebral disk disease in dogs. Journal Am Vet Med Assoc. Hayashi, et al. 2007. 231 (6): pg 913.

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