Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture Found Effective For Chemotherapy Side Effect Relief

acupuncture ceus sideeffectschemo

Acupuncture is effective for reducing side effects caused by chemotherapy. In one investigation, true acupuncture outperformed sham acupuncture for cisplatin-induced nausea and vomiting. In another two independent investigations, the addition of acupuncture to chemotherapy improved white blood cell count and boosted immune function for cancer patients.

True acupuncture outperformed sham acupuncture for nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. China-Japan Friendship Hospital researchers investigated the therapeutic effect of acupuncture combined with the antiemetic tropisetron for treating cisplatin-induced nausea and vomiting. [1] Two groups were compared. Patients receiving true acupuncture combined with tropisetron had an 87.1% and 79.0% total effective rate at day 2 and day 4, while the group of patients receiving sham acupuncture plus tropisetron had a 59.4% and 57.8% total effective rate at the same time points. Learn more in the acupuncture continuing education online course Oncology by Prof. Jeffrey Pang, L.Ac. and Ken Pang, L.Ac.

A total of 66 patients, randomly divided into two groups of 33, participated in the study. The average age of participants in the acupuncture treatment group was 57.6 ±5.1 years. There were 17 males and 16 females in the treatment group. The average age of participants in the sham control group was 56.9 ±6.3 years. There were 15 males and 18 females in the control group. The acupoints selected for the treatment group were the following:

  • ST36 (Zusanli)
  • PC6 (Neiguan)
  • SP4 (Gongsun)
  • Stomach (auricular acupuncture)

For the control group, the body points selected were neither meridian acupoints nor special acupoints. They were located at the following areas:

  • 3 cm laterally to ST36
  • 3 cm laterally to PC6
  • 3 cm laterally to SP4
  • Parallel to Stomach and in the scapha portion of the ear

For both groups, each point was inserted with a disposable 0.25 mm × 25 mm needle to a depth of 25–40 mm for body acupuncture and up to 5–7 mm for auricular acupuncture. For each body acupuncture point, the following protocol was observed. After standard disinfection, the acupuncture needle was inserted into the point. A needle retention time of 30 minutes was observed, during which time the needles were each manipulated for one minute every 10 minutes with the ping bu ping xie (mild tonifying and attenuating) technique. One session was administered per day for six days. Both groups received identical chemotherapy (tropisetron) while the true or sham acupuncture treatment was given.

Han et al. had similar results in their independent investigation published in the Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion Journal. [2] The researchers determined that acupuncture is effective for treating chemotherapy-induced leukopenia, and can delay white blood cell (WBC) decrease after discontinuation of granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (GCSF). GCSF is typically given during chemotherapy to stimulate WBC production by the bone marrow. While effective, some patients experience a WBC decrease after discontinuation of the drug, and some others do not return to normal values due to immune dysfunction.

Two groups were compared. One group received only GCSF, and the other group received both acupuncture and GCSF. For the acupuncture treatment, the following points were selected:

  • TB6 (Zhigou)
  • LI11 (Quchi)
  • LI4 (Hegu)
  • SP10 (Xuehai)
  • SP9 (Yinlingquan)
  • ST36 (Zusanli)
  • KD3 (Taixi)
  • LV3 (Taichong)
  • SP6 (Sanyinjiao)

After disinfection, a 0.30 mm × 65 mm disposable needle was inserted into each point perpendicularly, reaching a standard depth. Once a deqi sensation arrived, the needle was applied with the ping bu ping xie (mild tonifying and attenuating) technique. A 20–30 minute needle retention time was observed. One treatment session was conducted daily for a total of 31 days. Patients were evaluated before and after the treatment course. The treatment efficacy for each patient was categorized into 1 of 3 tiers:

  • Cured: WBC count ≥ 4.0 ×109/L after treatment
  • Effective: WBC count ≥ (3.0–3.9) × 109/L or an increase of 1.0 × 109/L from the baseline
  • Ineffective: WBC count did not meet the criteria of effective or cured after treatment

The study confirms that GCSF with acupuncture outperforms using GCSF alone for treating low WBC count after chemotherapy. This confirms the findings of Wang et al. in their research “Clinical Study on the Effect of Electroacupuncture on Cellular Immune Function in Patients with Gastrointestinal Tumor” published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science. They concluded that electroacupuncture (EA) can significantly improve cellular immune function in patients with gastrointestinal tumors during peri-operative and peri-chemotherapy periods. [3] After EA treatment, the CD3+ cell percentage and CD4+/CD8+ ratios significantly increased, indicating EA improved the lymphocyte transformation for patients receiving surgery and chemotherapy. The following acupuncture points were treated:

  • ST36 (Zusanli)
  • SP6 (Sanyinjiao)
  • LI4 (Hegu)
  • PC6 (Neiguan)

The three studies reviewed in this article demonstrate that acupuncture is an effective therapy for reducing certain side effects caused by chemotherapy. It eliminates gastrointestinal disorders (nausea and vomiting), relieves bone marrow suppression, and improves lymphocyte transformation. Given the data, acupuncture and other TCM modalities are recommended as viable chemotherapy-induced side effect treatment options by the researchers.


[1] Si ML, Wang X. (2009). Therapeutic effect of acupuncture on cisplatin-induced nausea and vomiting. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, 29 (1):3-6.
[2] Han YF, Gong Z, Huang LQ, et al. (2010). Clinical study on acupuncture for leukopenia induced by chemotherapy. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion, ,30 (10):802-805.
[3] Wang J, Jiang JW, Cai SJ et al. (2011). Clinical study on the effect of electroacupuncture on cellular immune function in patients with gastrointestinal tumor. Joumal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science, 9 (6)354-358.


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