August 15, 2022 by
Beginning in the fall, acupuncture will be provided at no cost to inpatient hematology and oncology patients at the UVM Medical Center
The philosophy behind acupuncture can sound farfetched to western ears. Tiny needles inserted at just the right points in the body unblock the flow of energy, or “chi,” restoring natural balance.
But according to a growing body of scientific research, the 3,000-year old Chinese art is a tool that very much belongs in Western medicine’s toolbox, especially for treating pain, nausea, anxiety, depression and other symptoms cancer patients suffer, and reducing the use of opioids.
A meta-study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that acupuncture was “significantly associated with reduced cancer pain and decreased use of analgesics,” one of hundreds of research papers demonstrating its efficacy for a range of cancer-related conditions.
Beginning in the fall, acupuncture will be provided at no cost to inpatient hematology and oncology patients at the University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center, thanks to a new grant to the UVM Cancer Center from the Victoria Buffum Fund.
The service will be available two days a week, with a third day added if demand is high, said Julie Suarez Cormier, a licensed acupuncturist who helped develop the new program.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays (and Fridays, if needed), doctors and nurses will check in with UVM Cancer Center patients to see which ones are experiencing symptoms—with pain, nausea and anxiety given priority—and want to try acupuncture. Then the acupuncturist on duty will administer the treatment to those who request it.
Cormier said that she and her colleagues will also educate interested patients about acupuncture and address any concerns they have.
“One of the biggest issues with acupuncture is fear of needles,” she said. “But once patients try it, they see it's no big deal. The needles are tiny. You can fit 16 of them in a regular needle.”
The Buffum grant also has a research component that involves evaluating the benefits of acupuncture for cancer patients. Interested in-patients can fill out a questionnaire asking them to assess the intensity of their symptoms prior to and following each acupuncture session.
The hospital has offered acupuncture to cancer patients in the past on an outpatient basis, but Covid-19 shut down the effort two years ago.
According to Cara Feldman-Hunt, UVM Integrative Health director, the hospital hopes to resume outpatient service—likely in conjunction with the launch of the Osher Center for Integrative Health next year.
The center will offer a range of integrative health services, including acupuncture but also psychological services, nutrition services, physical therapy, yoga, and massage.
The new in-patient acupuncture program should be a powerful addition to the services the hospital offers to cancer patients, Feldman-Hunt said.
“If we can ease suffering a little bit, then it will be successful.”