PHOENIX -- It is an ancient Chinese treatment finding a place in modern Western medicine. Acupuncture is the latest weapon in the fight against cancer.
Battling stage 4 colon cancer and already undergoing intensive chemotherapy, Michelle Hastings says the last thing she thought she needed was to have a bunch of needles jabbed into her body.
“I am not a needle person and was very scared, quite frankly,” Hastings said.
So when her medical team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Western Region Medical Center, suggested acuncture, she was, to say the least, hesitant.
“I was anxious, sweating, nervous, and oh my gosh what is he going to do to me, and is this going to hurt,“ she said.
What Hastings didn't know then was that a new study has proven acupuncture can be helpful in treating cancer.
"We know that there is statistically a significant difference in favor of acupuncture being able to control pain in a number of different situations,“ oncologist Dr. Walter Quan Jr. explains.
And Quan said that is what is important to note, the acupuncture is not used to directly treat cancer, but side effects, like pain, nausea or as in Hastings' case neuropathy, a numbing, tingling or loss of feeling in her hands and feet.
“And from day one it absolutely helped, it helped with my neuropathy, it helped with my nausea, and it just helped give a sense of peace,” she said.
Hastings said that has meant fewer medications to fight pain and nausea and more time she can spend focusing on her healing and her family.
“The difference in that could be potentially you being down and out for eight, nine, 10 days or you being up and going in 12 to 14 hours,” she said.
How exactly does it work?
Acupuncturist Dorian Simmons said you can look at it two ways.
“If we talk about traditional Chinese medicine, there is an imbalance in the body … a more modern, scientific explanation is the physiology in the body that changes when the acupuncture needles are in,” Simmons said.
But whichever view you take, for those waging war on cancer, this ancient art is a powerful new weapon in the arsenal for doctors like Quan.
“When you have cancer and you are fighting for your life, in the fight of your life, shouldn't you use every single healing tool available?“ Quan asked.
And also for patients like Hastings.
"So using these complementary therapies in addition to what I am doing to actively fight the cancer, gives me a sense of peace and relaxation knowing I am doing everything humanly possible to make sure that I continue to live to raise my kids,“ she said.
They have been using acupuncture at Cancer Treatment Centers of America for about 10 years, long before this study confirmed the benefits. And, by the way, the acupuncture is included in treatment. It is not something separate that patients are billed for.