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Acupuncture for Side Effects?!

A Person Inserting Needles on a Man's Forehead

Okay, I am just going to get to the point (pun certainly intended). It is important to give acupuncture the respect it deserves for potentially reducing some side effects of prostate cancer treatment. The evidence is preliminarily positive, but it is not easy to get large high-quality studies in these areas because of funding issues. But there is a lot of excitement related to small or pilot studies. 

Studies suggest a variety of potential areas where acupuncture could help some individuals. For example, hot flashes as a side effect of androgen deprivation treatment (ADT) are not easy to deal with. Although there are multiple prescription options that could help, they all come with interesting catches that have many clinicians struggling with what to provide for their patients. Acupuncture could be an option for those individuals that just want to try something to see if that could help take care of this issue. And if it is not helpful, then this could be part of the indication for using something different, such as a prescription medication to help treat these symptoms.1 (Please talk to your medical team about your options, because it is also possible to combine occasional acupuncture with some of the conventional options for hot flashes). 

But wait there is more! Sounds like a commercial, but another area of interest is in impacting or reducing nerve issues or neuropathy that can result from some types of chemotherapy. This is another side effect which is not easy to prevent or treat, but there is some preliminary data in the general world of cancer research indicating that there could be some benefits for individuals dealing with chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN).2

It is also interesting that the newest treatment for advanced prostate cancer is Pluvicto, but one of the more common side effects is dry mouth (xerostomia). Could acupuncture help with this side effect? Interestingly, acupuncture has demonstrated some potential promise for helping dry mouth caused by radiation treatment for head and neck cancer,3 so there should be some future studies in prostate cancer. 

Of course, before I leave you today there are other cancer treatment side effects (pain/discomfort, stress, anxiety, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, etc.) that are being studied. Please talk to your medical team about the pros and cons of acupuncture because there are cost (not cheap) and experience issues along with ongoing research. This is why your team is best to potentially recommend a qualified acupuncturist in your area. 

Finally, I like to remind many of my urology and oncology, and even public health colleagues, that a form of acupuncture known as “percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS)” has already become an accepted option to help treat overactive bladder (OAB) and symptoms such as urge incontinence in some men and women.4 In other words, within urology a form of acupuncture is already a well-known option to treat a specific type of incontinence, so could this also help some folks dealing with urge incontinence from cancer treatment? Again, talk to your team about the pros and cons. 

My goal here was simply to get to the point (pun intended again) and increase awareness of the potential for acupuncture to be utilized in some individuals dealing with a variety of conditions within, and outside of, cancer treatment. I was going to end my column with another acupuncture pun, but instead decided not to NEEDLE you with more of my silly quips.5

  1. Qan’ir Y, DeDeaux D, Godley PA, et al. Oncol Nurs Forum 2019; 46: E107-E118.
  2. Xu Z, Wang X, Wu Y, et al. Front Neurol 2022; 13: 963358.
  3. Jensen SB, Vissink A, Limesand KH, Reyland ME. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr 2019; doi: 10.1093/jncimonographs/Igz016.
  4. Sayner AM, Rogers F, Tran J, et al. Neuromodulation 2022; doi: 10.1016/j.neurom.2022.04.034
  5. Moyad MA. Complete obsession with puns in his mind. 2022.