Some Science Behind Acupuncture for Cancer Pain
Updated: October 1st, 2018
Cancer is very tough. And because we do not have a reliable cure for cancer, we must use every tool that helps to deal with cancer in a loved dog.
One of these tools is acupuncture for cancer pain.
Acupuncture in cancer has in the past been debated, and the use of acupuncture for pain relief has been addressed in the Guide and elsewhere in this blog (here and here). It is clear that it can help. Yet Guardians find their vets or oncologists may resist the idea.
One of the reasons is that the Chinese use a system that is more of a metaphor, or is symbolic, to talk about their medicine. And to us in the USA, especially those condemn-before-investigation types, those funny Chinese medicine words may sound like a bunch of garbage.
But the good news is there is now some pretty sound science that can explain how acupuncture works. And the science uses words that don’t sound like mumbo jumbo to a western-trained conventional vet or oncologist (and just for full disclosure, I’m a Cornell alum and have a conventional medicine background).
So what’s the science?
One of the best reports was on rats with prostate cancers in their shin bone (tibia). It showed that electroacupuncture of the point GB30 (Huantiao), decreased the levels of a couple of pain-producing chemical signals surrounding the spinal cord. This point is right above and tail-side of the hip joint. The chemical signals affected are preprodynorphin and dynorphin.
For those readers without a medical background, lets explain. Preprodynorphin gets turned into dynorphin in the body. Dynorphin is a chemical signal called an opioid, which means it stops pain in the body very much like morphine. The odd thing is that when dynorphin is in the fluid around the spinal cord, it actually increases pain. Since the acupuncture created less dynorphin, the pain went down in the leg housing the tumor.
Research animal ethics aside, the information is useful for several reasons, one being that acupuncture pain relief can be explained to a western trained vet or oncologist in a way that makes sense to them. The result? More dogs receiving pain relief treatments! Better life quality! As my colleague and coauthor Dr. Sue says, “Live longer and live well!”
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.
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