Many chemotherapy agents commonly used cause nerve damage in fingers and toes, leading to a side effect called peripheral neuropathy, that results in tingling, numbness, burning and/or pain. Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) has two significant aspects, one being that it can affect quality of life of cancer survivors, and second that it can also lead to dose reductions in chemotherapy, early termination of treatment (often to less effective agents), or even discontinuation of treatment. At the oncologist’s office, patients are often prescribed a drug called gabapentin to help manage the pain and other sensations however, at present, no ideal therapies are available for the prevention or even treatment of CIPN.
Acupuncture, the use of fine, sterile needles inserted at specific points in the body, has demonstrated safety and efficacy for several chemotherapy-induced side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, fatigue, lymphedema, pain, insomnia and anxiety and depression. The possible benefits of acupuncture on CIPN has been increasingly studied in recent years with some research. A recent randomized control trial with 40 patients, evaluated the effects of acupuncture versus the drug gabapentin, in chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy.
In this study, participants were randomized to receive either acupuncture, three times a week for four weeks, or standard-of-care gabapentin. At the conclusion of the study, the acupuncture group reported a greater reduction in symptoms compared with the gabapentin group. Significant improvements were also seen in more objective outcome measurements, and in addition, no adverse events were observed with acupuncture, whereas the gabapentin group experienced some dizziness and daytime sleepiness.
The treatment and management of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy can be a significant problem for those experiencing these symptoms. The encouraging results of this study present acupuncture as promising treatment option for CIPN. If you are beginning a nerve-damaging chemotherapy, or are currently experiencing peripheral neuropathy, consider booking an acupuncture appointment with an acupuncturist who focuses in cancer care, at the CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre.