Researcher hopes to stick it to chemo side effects

Study evaluates acupuncture’s ability to improve quality of life

A Lahey Hospital & Medical Center clinician and researcher is testing the effectiveness of acupuncture in reducing side effects of chemotherapy for patients with ovarian cancer.

Jonathan Ammen has been offering the traditional Asian practice, which involves applying needles to strategic points in the body, to cancer patients for three years in the hopes it will help them manage difficult symptoms such as pain, numbness, fatigue and depressed mood. His work is part of a research study funded in part by the M. Patricia Cronin Foundation, which supports ovarian cancer care and research in the greater Boston area.

Of the 26 participants, 16 completed the course of treatment and 12 reported notable improvements in the severity of their symptoms after 10 acupuncture sessions. None reported any adverse effects. Patient feedback was recorded in questionnaires completed before, during and after the sessions.

“The acupuncture was particularly helpful for patients who reported pain and numbness from the neuropathy,” said Ammen. “Though neuropathy symptoms can slowly improve over time, the response we have seen appears to be more rapid, which is great because there is no conventional treatment alternative other than pain medication.”

One patient who has experienced benefits is Teresa Gately, a 69-year-old New Hampshire resident with ovarian cancer. Shortly after beginning her first of two rounds of chemo, Gately began experiencing fatigue and peripheral neuropathy, numbness and pain in the hands and feet — common side effects of the chemotherapy drugs she was taking. Gately had difficultly grabbing a credit card from her wallet, and felt like she was always walking on soft sand, she said. She was also in constant pain.

Acupuncture Sticks with Recovering Cancer Patient

Teresa Gately

Then, Gately’s oncologist, Corrine Zarwan, MD, told her about Ammen’s research study.

Data analysis for this study is ongoing, but almost a year after her last acupuncture treatment, Gately, who is still battling cancer, is experiencing significantly less pain and numbness.

“The acupuncture was very beneficial to me,” she said. “Some people think it’s voodoo, but for me it’s helped improve my quality of life. I can’t wait to get back on the golf course.”