The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy fast-growing cancer cells. But in doing so, it can also damage normal, healthy cells that are fast growing, too. Damage to these healthy cells causes side effects. Nausea and vomiting – never enjoyable – can be among the most distressing side effects of chemotherapy. The good thing is that they are common side effects that can be treated with conventional medications as well as with complementary therapies.
Of the complementary therapies for nausea, acupuncture has the best evidence. Many studies have supported the use of acupuncture for nausea from chemotherapy, as well as post-operative nausea.
Typical treatment involves 10-12 needles inserted just under the skin on the legs and arms, including a point on the inner wrist that is especially useful for relieving nausea. The needles are left in for 20-30 minutes.
Most patients experience deep relaxation during the treatment and have a sense of well being after acupuncture. Acupuncture also can help with other side effects related to cancer including fatigue, stress, pain and dry mouth.
Other complementary therapies aren’t as well studied, but are safe. They include:
- Acupressure – pressure applied by the fingers or an elastic wristband
- Electroacupuncture – small electric current passed between pairs of acupuncture needles
- Non-invasive electro-stimulation – application of electric current without a needle
Combining conventional medicines as well as complementary therapies can be beneficial when dealing with side effects. Patients should talk to their health care provider to learn more about the different options.