There is a new phrase being heard more and more often in medical circles: `palliative care.'

Not to be confused with hospice or `end of life' care, palliative care is a branch of medicine dedicated to relieving suffering and promoting the best possible quality of life for patients and their families, regardless of the stage of serious illness or the need for other therapies.

It is an organized and structured system for the delivery of medical care, a philosophy of care that can suffuse an entire organization.

The healing benefits of acupuncture have been used in the treatment of a number of ailments for 4,000 years. As a form of ancient Chinese medicine, the process involves the application of small, sterile needles into targeted areas of the skin.

The principle behind acupuncture is tied closely to the idea that a vital energy, referred to as qi by the Chinese, flows through all of our bodies. Diseases and ailments can disrupt this healthy flow of energy and, through the use of acupuncture, an individual can re-open these crucial energy passageways.

Though considered an alternative form of medicine, many studies have verified the benefits of acupuncture as a complementary treatment process. Additionally, such esteemed organizations as the National Institutes for Health (NIH) have come forward to endorse acupuncture as an effective solution for palliative care.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of acupuncture needles for medical purposes in 1996. In terms of cancer treatment, the procedure is typically used as a means of pain management. Specifically, those who experience severe pain, nausea or vomiting as a side effect of chemotherapy are the most likely to benefit from acupuncture. In 1997, an NIH investigative panel made a public statement that “there is clear evidence that needle acupuncture treatment is effective for postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting.”

Other quality-of-life symptoms may also be reduced through the procedure. These include anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia and poor appetite. In some cases, acupuncture may also be used to help improve blood cell count or boost a patient’s immune system response.

Acupuncture is not meant to serve as a sole treatment for cancer. Rather, it is generally recommended as a complementary treatment to more traditional methods, such as radiation and chemotherapy.
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