Updated: Friday, 28th November 2014 @ 5:43pm

'Controversial' acupuncture study for women battling cancer sparks debate between patients and doctors

'Controversial' acupuncture study for women battling cancer sparks debate between patients and doctors

By Lucy Kenderdine

A controversial study surrounding the benefits of acupuncture for breast cancer sufferers has caused significant debate among patients and health professionals.

The three-year study, led by the University of Manchester, last week revealed that patients suffering from mental and physical exhaustion could benefit from the treatment.

Breast cancer patient and Kent mum-of-two Kristin had acupuncture at The Haven, a series of breast cancer support centres across England.

She said: “Acupuncture helps my body deal with the ravages that have been wrought upon it.

“I really believe it helped stop the side effects of the chemotherapy for me.”

Some of the participants and acupuncturists involved in the study came from The Haven centres and spokesperson Hannah Daws said they welcomed the opportunity to participate in the study. 

Acupuncture therapy, which involves thin, sterile needles being inserted to specific points on the skin, stimulates the nervous system in order to release natural painkillers and relive patients of symptoms.

It is one of the most popular therapies that the centre offers and is used three times as frequently as other options of shiatsu and reflexology.

Others patients, however, are not so convinced by the physical benefits of the treatment but rather focus on the other therapeutic benefits that the procedure can offer.

Another breast cancer patient, an oncology nurse who did not wish to be identified, said: "I had acupuncture after treatment but it didn't make one jot of difference with fatigue but it was therapeutic in that it was time for myself away from the rest of the world."

This is a similar opinion to others who argue that the therapeutic benefits of the treatment, alongside other complementary therapies such as hypnotherapy and Reiki, help them to deal with the effects of the condition.

Writer Yvonne from London said: "I am too needle-phobic to go for the acupuncture but I've found that hypnotherapy is excellent for helping me relax and it makes everything seem much more manageable."

The study itself has also caused significant disagreement with cancer patients and health professional being wary of over-exaggerating the results.

Lisa, 32, a regulatory affairs manager from London, said: "I'm always cautious about science and health studies such as this one.

“In my experience, as a scientist, the studies often cite things as fact when there are some questions that remain unanswered."

Some have also argued that the study could run a risk of encouraging cancer suffers to use unlicensed acupuncture therapists and have highlighted the risks associated with it.

Lisa added: “I have tried acupuncture but it didn’t work for me. In fact I got a nasty chronic infection and should have chosen a therapist more carefully.”

The issue of unanswered questions has also been noted by health professionals, arguing that more research needs to be done into the area.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, told MM: "The study is certainly of interest and should not be written off but with acupuncture research there is a problem with the placebo affect.

"Fatigue can be a substantial problem for breast cancer patients and it would be worth a look into further research in the area."

For more information about acupuncture treatment at The Haven visit www.thehaven.org.uk

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