In the medical field of cancer care acupuncture has become a regular mainstay of treatment. For twenty years the Guildford based Fountain Centre has provided an excellent level of care with complementary therapies for patients attending the St. Luke’s Cancer Centre within the Royal Surrey Community Hospital. Within this health-care provision, acupuncture has a very strong presence, providing a variety of treatment goals to patients.
The role of acupuncture in cancer care is very much as a part of a wider medical team including oncologists, specialist cancer nurses and radiotherapists. A common treatment aim is simply the reduction of stress for patients undergoing cancer treatment. Another common treatment aim is that of treating pain. In times gone by acupuncture was at the forefront of treating nausea brought on by chemotherapy medication, however these days the giving of chemotherapy has become so skilled, and the medicines for more advanced, meaning that the side effect of nausea is far less prevalent.
By far the most common condition treated by acupuncture today in the field of cancer care is that of hormone medication induced hot flushes. In the treatment breast and prostate cancers, medication is often given after the initial phases of surgery and radiotherapy (and/or chemotherapy) that contains strong hormones. A common such medication that many people would have heard of is Tamoxifen. These hormone medications are effective in reducing or stopping the growth of any remaining cancer cells, and therefore these medications are often prescribed for between 5 and 10 years use from and during the initial phase of cancer treatment. However they do commonly have side effects that are very strong: in the form of severe hot flushes: these being often with sweating and often at night.
The effect on women and men of this can be profound. Of course hot flushes in the day can be difficult to cope with and very uncomfortable, but it seems like the hot flushes that occur at night are very hard to deal with. People with this may experience 5 to 10 severe episodes of heat and sweating per night, waking to find the sheets soaked and sleep very disrupted. Many find it difficult to cope with fatigue during the day, and there is a commonly found knock on effect on mood as a result. So as a result any improvement in this condition would be very welcome, however there are no current medical approaches that work to help the problem. This is where acupuncture makes a valuable contribution. While this is a new field of practice for acupuncture as a profession, it seems that this therapy may be able to offer very significant improvements for sufferers.
I have been volunteering in two hospitals in this field in the past year, at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading and the Royal Surrey Hospital in Guildford. I have seen many patients presenting with these symptoms. Using a certain approach, I have been able to treat even the most severe cases with an extremely good level of improvement. In many cases this improvement has been able to “hold” and not need further treatment. Generally it seems to take between 4 to 6 treatments, spaced about 1 week apart to make this effect. Such is the level of improvement in this condition gained by acupuncture as practiced by many of my colleagues and myself, that a number of oncologists have begun to refer patients for treatment, and a new scientific research programme is currently underway. This is quite an area of breakthrough medically and one that I am pleased to have been part of.