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Breast cancer awareness: acupuncture helps post mastectomy lymphedema

woman is receiving acupuncture in her armpit

October is breast cancer awareness month

Many women with a diagnosis of breast cancer will have to undergo surgery, where one or both breasts are removed, along with some lymph nodes.

One complication of this is already traumatic procedure is called lymphedema, where one arm swells up with fluid and becomes painful.

Thankfully, acupuncture and Chinese medicine have been proven to help.

What is lymphedema?

Lymphedema can be caused by various factors linked to another underlying disease and is most prevalent with an accelerated cellular aging process. It is most commonly seen with cancer treatments where malignant lymph nodes are surgically removed in order to decrease the spread of a cancer.

For instance, in breast cancer, lymph nodes in the armpit are often surgically removed and/or damaged by chemotherapy drugs and radiation.

Removal or damage to lymph nodes often leads to lymphatic fluid building up and causing swelling and pain in the same side limb.

a woman with a scar on her left breast from cancer surgery is holding a pink ribbon in the foreground

The protein-rich lymphatic fluid build-up can be extremely painful, especially since oxygen can no longer be easily delivered to the affected extremity.

Because this part of the body is unable to fully heal without adequate oxygenation of its cells, cells eventually die.

The build-up of dead cells and waste fluids creates the perfect cocktail for bacteria to overgrow, resulting in high risk for infections.

Acupuncture Has Been Scientifically Proven to be an Effective Treatment for Lymphedema

Acupuncture for breast cancer

a young woman is wearing a lace bra and holding white flowers on the side of her breast

Researchers found that acupuncture stimulates the nervous system to release natural painkillers and immune system cells. During chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, Chinese medicine and acupuncture have been shown to:

  • help relieve fatigue

  • control hot flashes and side effects of chemo and radiation therapy

  • help decrease nausea & reduce vomiting caused by chemo

  • lessen pain

Acupuncture for cancer related lymphedema

A clinical trial performed by researchers at Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine found that acupuncture was effective in treating several symptoms of lymphedema in the arms of breast cancer patients

(BCRL, or “breast cancer related lymphedema”). (Yao et al., 2016)

an acupuncturist's hand is pressing on a patient armpit, the patient has 2 needles in the soulder

The patients in the trial received the acupuncture treatments for thirty minute sessions, every second day for thirty days. Acupuncture was able to

  • reduce the circumference of swelling in the upper arm, elbow, and forearm of these patients

  • allow for remarkable improvement in the range of motion of the rotator cuff and arm in general.

  • improve overall quality of life.

The control group was given Diosmin, a medicine used in the treatment of breast-cancer treatment related lymphedema and for other conditions.

At the conclusion of the trial, acupuncture was shown to be twice as effective as Diosmin.

These results were confirmed, independently, by Cassileth et al., in a comparable study, and were also in line with the findings of yet a third study conducted by researchers at the Daegu Catholic University Medical Center, in Korea. (Young et al., 2015.) Those researchers were quoted as saying “The basic strategy of treating illness with SAAM acupuncture is to harmonize these interruptions manifested by organ stagnation and irregularities, or imbalances caused by deficiencies and excesses.”

Prevention is the best cure

We want to insist on the fact that early detection and healthy lifestyle habits are 2 keys for avoiding breast cancer. Read our article here on the benefits of Chinese medicine and tips for preventing breast cancer.

No matter where you are in your

women's health, fertility, pregnancy & mothering journey,

if you need support, we can help.

In addition to our own team of fertility & women's health acupuncturists, we are well-connected within the Los Angeles- Pasadena area community to help you

find the right integrative and holistic care for you.

On our website, you can learn more about our services, and book an appointment.

If you have more questions please call our front desk, at 626-841-2991, or email us.


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