Oncology Acupuncture

Acupuncture is an integrative medicine therapy that has been proven to help with pain, improve well-being, and reduce the side effects of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Through Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center Integrative Medicine, acupuncture is available to help support you during your cancer treatment.

What to Expect

Before You Begin Treatment with Us

You do not need to do anything special before an acupuncture treatment. Most people wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes with pants that can be easily raised to their knees.

You will need a referral from a Fred Hutch provider to schedule acupuncture.

Not all insurance plans cover acupuncture services. If you have insurance, Patient Financial Services will contact your insurance provider to check your coverage and help you understand your benefits. They can be reached at (800) 304-1763. If your insurance does not cover acupuncture, you can choose to pay for your treatments on your own.

What to Expect at Your Treatment

You and your acupuncturist will talk about your treatment plan. A typical course of acupuncture often involves weekly treatments for eight weeks. Some conditions may need more than eight weeks of treatment to get long-term results. If this is the case, we will give you a list of referrals for acupuncturists in the community.

The first appointment is 60 minutes. Please be here 15 minutes early for your first appointment. Each follow-up appointment is about 45 minutes. Each person may react differently to acupuncture. You could feel relief from symptoms right away, or you may need more than one treatment before you notice a change.

If your symptoms don't start getting better after five treatments, your provider will talk with you about if acupuncture is right for you at this time. During treatment, we recommend that you keep a journal of your symptoms to help you notice and track changes over time.

Day of Your Treatment

Your acupuncturist will put very thin, sterile needles into specific places on your body, which are called acupuncture points. Your acupuncturist may put needles in a body part that is different from where your symptoms are. For example, they may put a needle in your hand to help reduce headaches. This is normal.

Frequently used acupuncture points are located on your lower arms (below the elbows) and on your lower legs (below the knees). Your acupuncturist will tell you the general areas of the planned treatment and if you need to take off any clothing. A gown or sheet will be provided if you need to take off your clothing so your acupuncturist can reach the acupuncture points.

Between 10 to 20 needles are used in a typical treatment. When the needles are put in, you may feel a mild pinching, but it is not painful. You may feel a mild aching sensation or pressure when a needle gets to the right place. Your practitioner may gently move the needles after putting them in or apply mild electrical pulses to the needles using a device. The needles stay in place for 20 to 30 minutes while you lie down and relax.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS)

Acupuncture is a practice of traditional East Asian medicine. It involves putting very thin needles in your skin at different points on your body.

The acupuncturists at Fred Hutch’s Integrative Medicine program are experts who use the latest research to help them decide how to use acupuncture safely and effectively during and after cancer care. This is called oncology acupuncture.

According to traditional East Asian medicine, acupuncture points are located at specific places along channels in your body. These channels connect all of your body parts and organs. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is believed to flow in this network of channels. Qi is the vital substance that flows throughout your body and provides the necessary elements that help your body function.

According to East Asian medicine, when qi is blocked, you may feel pain and other symptoms. Acupuncture helps improve the flow and balance of qi, which can lessen symptoms.

Studies have shown that acupuncture:

  • Releases chemicals in the brain
  • Sends messages through your nerves
  • Increases blood circulation
  • Helps reduce inflammation, which may also explain why acupuncture helps with pain.

Studies have shown that acupuncture can help with:

  • Pain after cancer treatment or surgery
  • Pain related to cancer or cancer treatment
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neuropathy (numbness, tingling or pain)
  • Constipation
  • Hot flashes
  • Dry mouth
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and stress management

The risks of acupuncture are low when it is done by a licensed, experienced acupuncturist. The needles used in each treatment are sterile and single-use. In general, most patients who get acupuncture do not have problems during their treatment.

Common side effects may include soreness and minor bleeding or bruising where the needles were put in. Our integrative medicine providers will go over your medical history and labs before each treatment to decide if acupuncture is right for you.

Our acupuncturists will ask if you have:

  • Low white blood cell count
  • Low platelet count
  • Pacemakers or other implanted devices
  • Lymphedema (buildup of fluid under your skin)

They will also ask if you are pregnant.



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