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Featuring Demian Dressler, DVM and Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), authors of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide

Dog Cancer: Does Acupuncture Make It Worse?

Updated: May 15th, 2024

There are few up to speed clinicians these days that will argue acupuncture is hocus pocus in cancer medicine.  If they do, the rest of us will point to this paper, and this one, and this one..and those are just a few.

Now, Western clinicians are accepting that acupuncture does good things for pain, nausea, and well-being in cancer patients.

Since I have always advocated an approach that capitalizes on all weapons, including diet, supplements (like the one I put together), lifestyle, quality of life, and every other possible edge to help dogs in need, I think we should really look at acupuncture for veterinary patients.

But an interesting question is floating around these days and I thought I could put my two cents in.

Could acupuncture make cancer worse?

Ouch.  Why would anyone say that?  Well, the argument is that acupuncture helps to stimulate blood flow.  And yes, that is true.  So is that bad?

Well, here’s the argument that suggests it is bad: if we stimulate blood flow in the body, that stimulates tumor spread.  In other words, more metastasis and happier tumors because the blood is flowing all over,  supporting tumor growth and seeding new cancer cells everywhere.

Folks, I’ve got to say, I disagree.  True, at some point later I might adopt a new viewpoint based on new data, but for now I am going to argue against it.

Here is my position:

1. We know that tumor blood flow is disorganized.  We do not know that blood flow within tumors responds to the signals from acupuncture.  So that’s an assumption that we don’t know is true.  Assumptions can lead to incorrect arguments.

2. We know that increased blood flow can be caused by acupuncture.  But we don’t know that this means a higher rate of metastasis or tumor growth as we are not certain that it means more oxygen in the tumor itself.  At this stage that is guessing and conjecture, nothing more. So again, an assumption that we don’t know is true.

3. We do know that increased blood flow results in more oxygen delivery to normal body parts (like the neighborhood around the tumor), as long as the body is able to take in more oxygen, and the heart can pump it around normally.

Now, the thing that seems to have been forgotten is that there are these little white cells around tumors that burrow tiny tunnels, or spaces, around the tumors.  These white cells gobble out holes  so the tumors can expand and grow into them, and recruit blood vessels from the body to help feed the tumor.

These little guys are called Tumor Associated Macrophages (TAM’s).  As it turns out, more TAM’s are reliable pointers to a worse prognosis.

So what does this mean?  And this key… it means that more blood flow would make more oxygen around tumors (in the tissue adjacent to the tumor) and less TAM’s, which would mean a better prognosis.  Since acupuncture creates more blood flow, it could be argued that this blood flow would be beneficial for cancer patients, not harmful.

Since acupuncture seems to help, and the argument that it worsens cancer seems as bullet proof as a slice of sponge cake, I would not turn away from this potentially useful tool.

What do you think?

If you like this kind of thinking, you will love The Dog Cancer Survival Guide.

As always, get input from your oncologist and veterinary acupuncture practitioner to see if acupuncture is suitable for your unique dog.

Best to all,

Dr D

Leave a Comment

  1. Deb Whitford on December 30, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Hello Dr D…
    Yesterday our seven year old lab/springer mix was diagnosed with cancer. Started with our regular vet finding a mass in her upper palate prior to a dental cleaning. CT scan by a specialist showed it is a golfball size mass behind her right jaw and very close to if not involving her lymph glands. We opted not to biopsy it as the vet didnt feel oncology could offer help with chemo/radiation. Would acupuncture be something to try?
    Thank you in advance,
    Deb (and Hannah)
    Washington State

    • Dog Cancer Vet Team on December 31, 2018 at 9:14 am

      Hello Deb,

      Thanks for writing. We’re not veterinarians here in customer support, so we can’t offer you medical advice. However, we can provide you with information based off Dr. Dressler’s writing 🙂

      As Dr. D writes in this article, if you can, and if your vet agrees, use acupuncture in conjunction with other western medications, as it may lessen the amount of drugs needed for managing pain. This article may also be helpful if you are looking for alternative suggestions for pain management 🙂

      Consult with your vet, or holistic vet, as they know your dog the best, and can provide feedback/advice on what will work alongside your dog’s current treatment plan, and if acupuncture is something that you could try for your girl 🙂

      We hope this helps!

  2. kathie carr on October 31, 2016 at 4:39 am

    I realize that this blog post is a couple of year old now, but I would like to share some information that may be helpful.

    I had a Rough Collie who was getting acupuncture for mobility issues at a reputable vet practice in Atlanta. He did fine with the treatments and had about 9 total. Then, during his last treatment he had some type of seizure. He was resting calmly with the needles in him, then suddenly seized up and lost control of his bowels. He started panting and never stopped until he died about 14 hours later. After he took his last breath blood ran out of his nose. The vet later told me that he probably had a tumor in his sinuses.

    I was devastated. Here I was trying to HELP my dog and the treatment killed him. I see the advantages of acupuncture. However there are rare cases like this that DO happen. No one could ever convince me that this was not because of the acupuncture.

    Hope this helps someone…..

  3. Susan Kazara Harper on August 4, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Ryan,
    You share good information, to try to check all the potential effects of any treatment. Please remember as well, that acupuncture releases energy in order to balance the body. If indeed the treatment initiated a change in your dog’s lymph node, check with the therapist, and give it a chance. Your boy is a wonderful, living mystery. He has no expiration date written in stone. I hope you have him on the Dog Cancer Diet, and there is further help for MCT nutrition at
    Are you using Apocaps? Even though the lymph gland responded the way it did, he has yet to show you what will happen next. Take heart and hang in there. We’re all hoping for the best.

  4. Ryan on August 1, 2014 at 8:13 pm

    My dog was in full remission from mast cell cancer with normal lymph nodes. After doing acupuncture he became very sick within 48 hours. In 48 hours his lymph node on one enlarged and now he has been given 1 to 3 months to live. I believe acupuncture in most cases in beneficial, but it’s can be like opening a Pandora’s box under some cases. For MCT I believe you should know the risks beforehand because it moves blood around and mast cell cancer is so unpredictable in the first place.

  5. Janie Ellington on January 13, 2013 at 3:55 am

    There are so many articles on the web written by people who have absolutely nothing to say and they say it poorly. Thank you for a well-thought-out, helpful, insightful, and well written article

  6. Karuna on May 23, 2011 at 12:49 am

    I have 3 years old Westie. About 2 months ago I took him to Hollistic Vet. His condition was fine as we just started new food. His stools was good only he was seems depressed. The reason I took him there becoz he’s been on and off diarhea and throw up but everytime after metronidazole he’s back to normal. I was worried that the new food might not working. Anyway, he got acupunture, herb medicine and their probiotic and enzyma. A week after that he is starting throwing up. We went there the second time, he got B12 shoots and another acupunture and eliminate all those supplement. Still no improving, so I took him to his Vet. And now it’s been over two months he still has nausea. He keeps leaking inside his mounth and make a sound with his mouth, he has more saliva.
    I am wonder this is caused by Acupunture? We are on the process to find if he has either PSS or Microvascular Dysplasia. But his 3 bile tests came back questionable.

  7. Donna on March 20, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    This is a topic I had wondered about and I’m glad you have addressed it. I must side with Lilly, however. I had a 13.5 year old Great Dane. She was prone to mast cell tumors, with a Grade II mast cell when she was 4. She had it removed and followed up with radiation treatments. She went for many years with no mast cell tumors. After having some arthritis and weak hind legs during the last few months of her life, she had quite a few acupuncture treatments. After the treatments were stopped, a small mast cell appeared on her front leg. I am leaning towards the opinion that acupuncture is not a good idea for a dog with cancer, since acupuncture opens up the blood flow.

  8. Dr. Dressler on March 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Lilly. It is helpful to know that not every tool is a panacea for all dogs, and like all modalities, for some this will not be the right one.
    Dr D

  9. Lilly on March 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Interesting topic and one I have pondered since my dog was diagnosed with cancer (now passed away). She was in remission from a plasmacytoma for 7 years and after I got her some acupuncture treatments to help with some typical age related joint issues, she was diagnosed with cutaneous T Cell lymphoma in her mouth which was the site of the first cancer. She was very nervous getting the needles–not like other dogs who sleep and are relaxed. When she got home from the acupuncture she vomitted the one time and another time she completely let go of her bladder the next day in the house. Prior to the acupuncture she never had an accident and held her bladder extremely well for a 13 year old dog. I am not a fan of acupuncture after these experiences. I personally feel it made the cancer come out of remission and also made her sick after the treatments. A few months after the acupuncture—she was diagnosed again. I would not do it again with my current 2 dogs. I have guilt about doing this in the name of trying to help her.

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