Skip to main content

Managing Cancer Pain: Acupuncture

Read time: 3 minutes
Melissa Zappa, MAcOM, LAc

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

The American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) published guidelines for pain management based on clinical evidence and research. These specifically highlight the benefits of acupuncture, massage therapy, and music therapy for reducing pain related to cancer and its treatment.

In this first installment of a three-part series, we look at the benefits of acupuncture.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is a health care treatment that uses tiny needles to stimulate the body’s own healing response. It originated in China more than 2,000 years ago and has been studied extensively for its safety and effectiveness during cancer treatment.

Acupuncture is not as common in the United States as other complementary approaches, such as meditation and yoga, yet its popularity is growing. According to the National Institutes of Health, the percentage of U.S. adults who use acupuncture more than doubled between 2002 and 2022. Of the people who used acupuncture in 2022, 72.8% used it for pain.

The Wellness and Integrative Health Center provides support for patients from diagnosis to survivorship and has offered acupuncture since 2007. Our staff provides more than 3,000 acupuncture treatments each year.

What are the benefits of acupuncture?

Acupuncture is effective in reducing muscle pain and pain caused by cancer. It also reduces neuropathy related to chemotherapy and surgical pain.

Acupuncture can help reduce side effects of cancer and its treatment safely, without interfering with prescription drugs, treatment plans, or causing additional side effects. Many patients report less fatigue, pain, nausea, hot flashes, and digestive complaints when getting regular acupuncture treatment throughout chemotherapy and radiation.

“Acupuncture helps support patients who wish to experience less side effects during and after treatment, and who are not interested in relying solely on pharmaceuticals for managing their symptoms,” says Melissa Zappa, licensed acupuncturist and acupuncture program coordinator at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

“Acupuncture has been shown to enhance the effect of prescription drugs for nausea, sleep, anxiety, and pain relief, in addition to being very effective on its own. Patients that are struggling with chemotherapy or radiation side effects may find that adding regular acupuncture to their oncology treatment plan will support them in having less nausea, pain, fatigue, insomnia, and digestive concerns so they can continue treatment and daily life activities with more energy and enthusiasm!”

How can the Wellness and Integrative Health Center help?

Huntsman Cancer Institute has been a leader in integrative approaches to pain management and offers treatments at lower costs to patients, survivors, and caregivers. The Wellness and Integrative Health Center offers outpatient acupuncture and massage therapy treatments from highly-trained providers.

Shelley White, PhD, manages the Wellness and Integrative Health Center. “I love it when patients tell me, ‘my doctor told me my engagement in the wellness center services during my treatment will help me get through my cancer treatment.’ Provider referrals at the onset of a new diagnosis are a testament to how forward-thinking and truly integrative Huntsman Cancer Institute really is.”

To make an appointment for acupuncture, call the Wellness and Integrative Health Center at 801-587-4585.

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

Cancer touches all of us.