Many people with leukemia try additional treatments outside their standard care, hoping to manage symptoms and, in some cases, to improve their treatment outcome. In a commentary on the subject in the September 2009 issue of Expert Reviews Anticancer Therapies, Memorial Sloan-Kettering investigators examined the results from available studies testing the effectiveness of such approaches. They report that among the complementary therapies used to decrease symptoms and side effects, acupuncture is very beneficial for symptom management.

For some leukemia patients, cancer chemotherapy drugs can damage the peripheral nervous system (a condition known as peripheral neuropathy), causing pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, and muscle weakness in various parts of the body, especially in the hands and feet. In some cases, doctors must reduce the chemotherapy dose in order to prevent the neuropathy from progressing further. Acupuncture has been found to decrease these difficult neuropathy symptoms, allowing the maximum amount of chemotherapy to be used, thereby increasing the patient’s chance for a successful outcome.

Acupuncture is also known to reduce the effects of nausea caused by a variety of chemotherapy agents used to treat leukemia. Research has shown that timing the acupuncture sessions one to two days before chemotherapy infusion and continued weekly throughout the chemotherapy regimen produces the best results. In addition, the authors note that acupuncture has been proven safe for patients receiving the anticoagulation drugs CoumadinĀ® or heparin during their leukemia treatment.

The review’s authors note that, in general, it is important to distinguish between complementary therapies — including acupuncture, self-hypnosis, yoga, meditation, and therapeutic massage — and alternative therapies, which are unproven and ineffective, and may interfere with mainstream cancer treatments.

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