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Acupuncture for Chemo: October 17, 2011

Barbara McQuade has been fighting ovarian cancer for 12 years. As a side effect of her chemo, she developed neuropathy in her feet and hands.

“It’s a tingling, it can be a numbness and a tingling, but its annoying, cause it doesn’t stop.”

It’s not just Barbara who lost touch. Neuropathy is common in cancer patients.

“A lot of the chemotherapy drugs actually kill the smallest nerves and blood vessels in the fingers and the toes and they end up having numbness or tingling and they can’t pick up a piece of paper and they can’t tell if something is wet or dry,” says acupuncturist Leigh Reynolds.

To give patients some relief, Lee Memorial Health System added an acupuncturist to its staff.

“Acupuncture is the insertion of sterile needles into very specific points in the body to stimulate energy that flows through the body. There’s over 300 points in the body and each one has its own use we may treat points right on the head, we may put needles in the hands,” says Reynolds.

“I would get on the table and lie back and she would say give me your hand, I was afraid, I really thought I was gonna feel it and I would brace myself saying ‘oh god here it goes’ and I never felt it,” says Barbara.

Acupuncture is nothing new; it’s been around for 6,000 years. But the practice of using it alongside traditional medicine is gaining traction.

“The Regional Cancer Center here is very interested in having an integrated medical department. It’s the way a lot of the big medical centers are going and they’ve got a fabulous set up here,” says Reynolds.

Acupuncture is being used to treat not only neuropathy, but nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, hot flashes and pain associated with cancer treatment.

“I’m a last resort, a lot of people will go any other way other than thinking about having needles put in but once they come in and try it they realize that it really isn’t that scary and they’re fine,” says Reynolds.

Barbara believes it healed her hands.

“The first time I had it I was able to put my hands around the steering wheel and actually feel the steering wheel.”

And unlike her chemotherapy, acupuncture has no side effects.