Among the many support services available to cancer patients at Miami Cancer Institute – nutrition; massage; exercise therapy; mental health counseling, art and music therapy and more – is an ancient practice that’s helping patients cope with the side effects of their treatment, which can include pain, nausea, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Zunli Mo, Ph.D., O.M.D., an expert in integrative medicine and an acupuncture physician with Miami Cancer Institute, says that acupuncture has been used in Chinese medicine for more than 2,500 years. “The fact that it is still being practiced today – and that it enjoys increasing acceptance in traditional Western medicine by both physicians and patients alike – indicates that acupuncture can indeed be beneficial,” says Dr. Mo, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the field, working in China, Japan and the United States.
In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed a number of conditions in which they say acupuncture has been proven effective. The list includes blood pressure (both high and low); chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting; some gastric conditions, including peptic ulcer; painful periods; morning sickness; rheumatoid arthritis; tennis elbow; sciatica; allergic rhinitis and other conditions. The WHO also suggests that acupuncture may help treat a number of infections, including some urinary tract infections.
According to Dr. Mo, acupuncture can help cancer patients at various points in their journey, and that’s why in 2019 he was recruited to the team of oncologists, radiologists and other cancer specialists at Miami Cancer Institute, which is part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“Acupuncture can help body relax and alleviate nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy sessions,” says Dr. Mo. “It can also be used to effectively manage pain following surgery or radiation, and to help with insomnia, dry mouth and other common side effects of cancer treatment.”
Modern science has yet to identify the specific mechanisms at work with acupuncture, Dr. Mo says, but it is believed that the practice activates or elicits homeostasis, the inner balance of the human body’s healing system.
According to an article in Medical News Today, acupuncture manipulates energy flow through meridians, or pathways, in the body and brings it back into proper balance:
“Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridiens and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body. Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance. Research suggests that it can help relieve pain, and it is used for a wide range of other complaints.”
Dr. Mo understands that some people have misperceptions of acupuncture. “Some people believe that anything involving needles must be painful,” he says. “We use filiform, super-fine stainless steel needles, not the larger, hollow-bore needles like the kind used for delivering medications or vaccines,” he says. Most patients hardly feel anything at all – if they do, it’s “light and extremely brief,” he says.
There are many different types of needles used in acupuncture, according to Dr. Mo – including local and distal. “Local needles are used at specific points on or around the painful area, while distal needles are used at a point away from the area,” he explains. Every needle is safely disposed of immediately after use, Dr. Mo adds.
“Acupuncture is just one of a spectrum of healing services available to cancer patients here at Miami Cancer Institute,” says Dr. Mo. “Weekly sessions are typically 45 to 60 minutes, and most patients find long-lasting relief after just six to eight sessions.”