Endorsed by the European Oncology Nursing Society

Is acupuncture right for me?

Is acupuncture right for me? image

Acupuncture is an ancient form of medicine that has been used in China and other Asian countries for more than 4,000 years.1 Today, acupuncture is used in many contexts, including for the relief of side effects of cancer treatment.1,2

It involves stimulation of specific locations on the body called “acupuncture points” using either very fine needles2–4 or warmth, pressure, or suction.1 This stimulation is thought to restore the flow of vital energy called “qi” along specific paths called “meridians” through the body.1,2 In this way, any symptoms that result from blockage of the energy flow are relieved.1,2

The acupuncture needles stimulate nerves to release natural chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin.1,3,4 These substances act to relieve muscle tension and pain, and this is why acupuncture might improve your feeling of well-being.3,4

You are most likely to benefit from acupuncture when it is used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by your cancer chemotherapy.1 You may also find that acupuncture reduces pain caused by the cancer itself or the numbness or tingling in the hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy) caused by chemotherapy.1,2

Acupuncture can also be used to treat the following symptoms:1,2

  • Fatigue
  • Hot flushes
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep

During treatment, your practitioner will put very fine, sterile, stainless-steel needles into your skin.1–4 This should not be painful but may cause a tingling feeling.1,3 The number of needles used depends on your symptoms and how you respond.3 The needles are removed after 10 to 30 minutes.3

Acupuncture affects people differently. It may relax you or energise you.2 You might feel a bit “spaced out” for a short while just after the first treatment, and then you may feel worse, or just different, before you start to feel better.2

People need different numbers of acupuncture treatments.3 You will probably feel the benefit after between three and six sessions.3

When carried out by a trained professional, western medical acupuncture is generally safe and rarely has side effects.3,4

Acupuncture is not suitable for everyone (for example, people at risk of infections), so if you think you want to try acupuncture, check with your doctor first.2,4



  1. PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. Acupuncture (PDQ®). Accessed February 2016.
  2. Breastcancer.org. Acupuncture: what is it and how can it help? Accessed February 2016.
  3. Cancer Research UK. Acupuncture. Accessed February 2016.
  4. Macmillan. Acupuncture. Accessed February 2016.