Acupuncture to Relieve Symptoms Associated with Lung Cancer

Pain – depression – anxiety – fatigue – nausea and vomiting – the majority of people with lung cancer experience a multitude of troubling symptoms related to either the disease itself or to the side effects of its treatment. Not only do these symptoms greatly impair quality of life in lung cancer patients, but they limit functional capacity, as well.

More and more, cancer patients are seeking complementary treatment modalities such as mindfulness meditation, massage and acupuncture, in addition to traditional cancer treatment, as a means of providing symptom relief. Until now however, little has been known about the benefits of acupuncture exclusively in lung cancer patients, despite it being the most common of all cancers. A recent study published in Common Oncology set out to address this important void by focusing on the role that acupuncture plays in symptom relief for patients who only had lung cancer. Here’s what they found:

Study Methods

The study was conducted at the Peter Brojde Lung Cancer Centre in Montréal, Canada between August 2010 and May 2012. 17 women and 16 men were enrolled: 30 with non-small-cell lung cancer and 3 with small-cell lung cancer. The average age of the participants was 62 years with most (73%) of the subjects being in the advanced stages of cancer.

All patients enrolled in the study received 45 minutes of acupuncture, once or twice a week, for a minimum of four sessions. On average, participants received a total of 7 acupuncture sessions in all. Symptom severity was assessed using a standardized assessment tool before and after the completion of acupuncture.


After careful evaluation of the collected data, study results revealed statistically significant improvements in:

  • Pain
  • Appetite
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Well-being
  • Strength

Additionally, modest improvements were seen in shortness of breath, drowsiness and depression.

Because pain is such a significant symptom of lung cancer, it should be noted that at the end of acupuncture treatment, 20 (61%) patients reported that their pain had improved, while 11 (33%) reported that their pain remained stable. Only 2 patients reported worsening pain; however these patients stopped acupuncture after only 4 sessions.1

Other Studies Supporting the Use of Acupuncture for Lung Cancer

Although the study of acupuncture for the treatment of cancer is still in its infancy, noteworthy clinical trials have shown it to be beneficial in the treatment of the following cancer and/or cancer treatment symptoms:

  • Nausea-Induced Chemotherapy – According to the National Cancer Institute, there is strong evidence to suggest that acupuncture helps relieve nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy.2
  • Pain – Research suggests that acupuncture may help relieve the pain of cancer as well as the pain from cancer surgery. One study showed an observed reduction in pain intensity in patients experiencing cancer pain, despite their being treated with analgesic pain relievers.3
  • Depression and Quality of Sleep – In patients with malignant tumors, acupuncture has been shown to reduce depression and improve quality of sleep, thus improving overall quality of life.4
  • Chemotherapy-Induced Peripheral Neuropathy – Preliminary studies suggest that acupuncture could be an option for patients experiencing chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Although it looks hopeful, more research is needed to validate these results.5

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture, a fundamental component of traditional Chinese medicine, has been around for over 5,000 years. It is based on the belief that all living beings are filled with a vital energy called “qi” that circulates through invisible energy lines (meridians) on the body. Each organ of the body is associated with a different meridian point. Proponents of acupuncture believe that disease occurs when there is an imbalance in the flow of qi throughout a specific meridian point. Acupuncture aims to correct imbalances of qi and restore the body to health.

Will Acupuncture for Lung Cancer Work for Me?

Does acupuncture really work? Although every patient is different, it is becoming increasingly evident that, as a complementary treatment option, it may. It’s important to note however, that one acupuncture session is generally not enough. To be effective, 1 to 2 sessions a week, for 5 to 6 weeks, is recommended.6  For more information about the benefits of acupuncture, talk to your primary care provider.


Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN


1 Kasymjanova, G. MD., et. al. The potential role for acupuncture in treating symptoms in patients with lung cancer: an observational longitudinal study. Current Oncology. Volume 20, Number 3, June 2013.
2 National Cancer Institute. Health Professional Version. Acupuncture (PDQ). Updated 01/11/12.
3 Alimi, D. et al. Analgesic effect of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain: a randomized, blinded, controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2003. 21(22):4120-6.
4 Feng, Y. et al. Clinical research of acupuncture on malignant tumor patients for improving depression and sleep quality. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2011. 31(3):199-202.
5 Donald, G., Tobin, I., and J. Stringer. Evaluation of acupuncture in the management of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Acupuncture in Medicine. 2011. 29(3):230-3.
6 The Cleveland Clinic. Treatments and Procedures: Acupuncture. 1995-2013.

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