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

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 D



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