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    Surgery is commonly used both in diagnosing and treating cancer, in the latter case either as a stand-alone treatment or in conjunction with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Surgery can induce a range of unpleasant side effects including pain, nausea (post anaesthetic), diminished mobility, bruising and fatigue.  Lymphoedema  may also occur where lymph nodes have been removed during surgery, causing localised swelling and pain.


    Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be used to strengthen the body and relieve the side effects of treatment.  The combination of Western and Chinese measures to complement each other can achieve a far better effect than relying solely upon one form of treatment.  From a TCM perspective, surgery is an externally inflicted wound which affects the free flow of Qi, blood and body fluids, reduces the amount of energy available and causes blood to flow less freely. TCM has been shown to work successfully both before and after surgery, reducing nausea, vomiting and pain as well as helping to calm patients prior to surgery.  Loss of range of motion may be treated with acupuncture and herbal medicine as appropriate.


    There is considerable research into the effectiveness of TCM on postoperative side effects.  Alem and Gurgel 1 report on successful clinical trials involving women who experienced lymphoedema after breast cancer surgery, in which acupuncture was associated with improvement in most of the parameters studied. (Note that acupuncture is not used on the affected limb of patients who have had lymph node removal.)

    Others studies2,3 indicate that acupuncture can alleviate pain, improve movement and ease depression after surgery. Similarly, there is evidence4 that acupuncture and herbal treatment can treat conditions such as constipation and that TCM helps wound healing, aids nerve regeneration, enhances the immune system and reduces scarring.

    A double-blind randomised controlled trial5 of acupuncture treatment for post-operative nausea and vomiting showed acupuncture reduced these symptoms by 65% in hospital and 69% after discharge.


    1. .Alem M & Gurgel M (2008) Acupuncture in the rehabilitation of women after breast cancer surgery–a case series. Acupunct Med. 2008 Jun;26(2):87-93.
    2. He JP, Friedrich M, Ertan AK, Muller K, Schmidt W (1999) ‘Pain-relief and movement improvement by acupuncture after ablation and axillary lymphadenectomy in patients with mammary cancer.’ Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol Vol 26 pp 81-84.
    3. Mehling WE, Jacobs B, Acree M, Wilson L, Bostrom A, West J, Acquah J, Burns B, Chapman J, Hecht FM (2007) ‘Symptom management with massage and acupuncture in postoperative cancer patients: a randomised controlled trial.’J Pain Symptom Manage Vol 33 pp258-266
    4. Cohen, I., Tagliaferri, M., Tripathy, D. (2002) ‘(Part 2) Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of breast cancer’, Journal of Chinese Medicine
    5. M, Newman B, Julious SA. (1997) ‘Acupuncture in the prevention of postoperative nausea and vomiting’; Anaesthesia Jul;52(7):658-61.

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