Acupuncture and the Immune System
Bowel (colorectal) cancer is the second most common cancer in Europe and the third most common in the World. As with most cancers there is an increased risk of developing bowel cancer related to smoking, obesity or being overweight and alcohol consumption. There can also be a higher risk if a close relative has had bowel cancer and if the diet is lacking fibre. Patients who have suffered from colorectal polyps, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis and diabetes also have a higher risk of developing bowel cancer. The front line conventional treatment for bowel cancer is surgery and this is often backed up with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.
The state of the patient's immune system is known to be a good predictor of how successful chemotherapy will be in cancer treatment and it can also have a large effect on the emotional well being and quality of life of a patient. Many studies have shown that acupuncture can affect the functioning of the immune system. In Dec 2013, a research group showed that treatment with acupuncture reduced fatigue and improved the balance of different immune cells (lymphocyte subsets) in patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. A more recent study has shown that moxibustion acupuncture treatment can compensate for reduced red blood cell function and lower levels of lymphocyte subsets that occur in athletes that endure heavy-load training. The immune system has specific cells that are responsible for fighting cancer and preventing it spreading and in the case of bowel cancer, natural killer cells are considered to be the most important and constitute the first line of defence.
A new study just published has shown that moxibustion acupuncture can improve the levels of white blood cells in patients with bowel cancer. The study group divided participating patients in to two groups. One group received moxibustion acupuncture a week before the start of chemotherapy treatment and then a further five sessions which ended just before the start of their chemotherapy treatment. The control group only received the standard chemotherapy. Full blood counts were carried out for both groups both before and during the treatment period. and patients were also tested for levels of anxiety and depression. Results showed that the moxibustion acupuncture group had improvements in total white blood cell counts as well as the all important Natural Killer cells. The acupuncture group also had healthier lower levels of anxiety and depression when compared to the control group whose anxiety and depression levels rose substantially as the chemotherapy treatments progressed.
Acupuncture is clearly beneficial supportive therapy for patients undergoing treatment for bowel (colorectal) cancer.
Ling et al. Impacts on chronic fatigue syndrome of qi deficiency syndrome and T cell subgroups in patients treated with acupuncture at selective time. Zhongguo Shen Jiu Dec 2013.
Li et al. Impacts of moxibustion on erythrocyte immune function and lymphocyte subsets in athletes. Zhongguo Shen Jiu. May 2013.
Pais et al. Effects of acupuncture on leucopenia, neutropenia, NK and B cells in cancer patients: a randomized pilot study. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. Jul 2014.