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Acupuncture and Cancer: How It Can Help and What to Expect

Read Time: 4 minutes
 Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc

Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc and an acupuncture patient
Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc and an acupuncture patient

I often hear the same four questions from people who have never tried acupuncture:

  • What is it and how does it help?
  • Is it safe?
  • Does it hurt?
  • How much does it cost?

As a licensed acupuncturist with several years of experience, I am passionate about helping people improve their wellbeing and making their journey through cancer easier with acupuncture. Read on to find all the answers to your questions and the many benefits of this integrative treatment.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a health care treatment that comes from traditional Chinese medicine. Licensed acupuncturists insert extremely thin, sterile needles into the skin at specific points on the body to stimulate your body’s own healing response. Acupuncture has been studied and researched by the National Institutes of Health and other healthcare and medical institutions and has been found to be effective by improving the body’s circulation, reducing inflammation, and encouraging the body’s own regulatory responses.

How does acupuncture help people with cancer?

Acupuncture has been found to improve health, promote recovery, and ease cancer treatment side effects. At Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI), we use acupuncture to help reduce side effects from cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

It does not take the place of your cancer treatment, but it can help you feel and heal better throughout your treatment plan. Many patients use regular acupuncture to help prevent or reduce common side effects, which include:

  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Stress, anxiety, or mood support fatigue
  • Hot flashes or night sweats
  • Pain and swelling
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Peripheral neuropathy

Is acupuncture safe?

Yes. Acupuncture at HCI is safe for anyone being treated for cancer or has finished treatment. All needles are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are sterile, used once, and disposed.

All acupuncture providers at HCI are highly trained and experienced in acupuncture for cancer treatment support. Each acupuncturist is licensed to by the State of Utah and the national certifying body (NCCAOM) to practice acupuncture. They follow the same safety and quality standards as the other providers on your cancer care team.

Annie Budhathoki, DAOM, LAc and an acupuncture patient
Annie Budhathoki, DAOM, LAc and an acupuncture patient

Does acupuncture hurt?

Most people do not find treatments painful. In fact, most people find them to be relaxing and very enjoyable. The acupuncture sensation can feel like a small pinch or light poke, but most patients do not describe it as painful. Other common sensations include a warm, heavy, or wave-like feeling throughout the body. These feelings are all normal and positive responses to treatment. Many patients report extreme relaxation and some even fall asleep during their treatment.

What is treatment like?

The acupuncture appointment takes about an hour. Our acupuncture treatment rooms are designed to help you relax and enjoy your treatment and include soft lighting and relaxing music. After discussing your health concerns with your acupuncture provider, you lie down on a comfortable table in the treatment room. The provider will clean your skin with alcohol and begin your acupuncture treatment. Once all the needles are placed, the provider can dim lights, provide a warm blanket, turn on soft music, or whatever makes you more at ease. The needles stay in place for about 30 minutes while you relax.

Your provider will check on you throughout the treatment to ensure you are comfortable, and there will also be a call button within reach if you need assistance.

It is important to note that acupuncture treatments take time to produce their desired effects. Each treatment builds on the last for a cumulative effect, and consistency is key to success. Your provider will advise you on how many treatments you will need to achieve your desired results. Each person’s needs are different, so treatment schedules will vary, and may be booked twice-weekly to bi-monthly to achieve results. Many people plan their acupuncture treatment the same day as other appointments at HCI.

How much does it cost?

HCI patients and caregivers can receive acupuncture treatments for an out-of-pocket cost of $55 per treatment. HCI may be able to bill your insurance depending on your coverage and your health concerns. Check with your insurer to verify your policy covers the treatment. HCI will bill to your insurance if our billing department can verify your coverage, but if your insurer denies the claim, you will be responsible for the cost. This price will be $78.58.

How do I schedule an appointment?

Treatments are offered Monday through Friday from 7 am to 7 pm at the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness and Integrative Health Center located on the first floor of the cancer hospital. To make an appointment, call 801-587-4585 or stop by our front deskFollow- up appointments can be booked on MyChart.

Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc
Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc

Cancer touches all of us.