This ancient technique relieves pain better than drugs in cancer patients

Last month, I told you about a disturbing study that found nearly one in five women diagnosed with breast cancer go on to become new, persistent users of addictive painkillers, such as opioids.  

But, in my view, the problem isn’t just limited to women with breast cancer…  

In fact, I’m inclined to think people diagnosed with all types of other cancers suffer the same fate—because they don’t know about the safe, effective options for pain relief. 

Fortunately, a new study published in JAMA Oncology just found that men and women with cancer experienced better (and longer-lasting) pain relief by using an ancient, hands-on technique compared to those who received “traditional care.” 

Long history of safe, effective use 

In recent years, the ancient, hands-on, Chinese technique of acupuncture has garnered a lot of attention in the scientific world. In fact, we now know it helps alleviate dementia and cognitive impairment following a stroke. And it helps improve breathing in people who have asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Of course, some of the best modern research on acupuncture examines its effect on pain. In one recent study, it even outperformed morphine for pain control. The evidence is so strong, even the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that acupuncture is safe and effective for pain. (They came to that conclusion 25 years ago, after a big Consensus Development Conference, which was published in the medical journal I had founded and edited.) 

Well, with all this evidence supporting the use of acupuncture for pain, it’s puzzling why doctors don’t recommend it more to cancer patients, specifically, who suffer from some of the worst kinds of pain… 

Better late than never 

The U.S. has a growing population of cancer survivors who experience a greater pain burden than the general population. Their pain stems not just from the cancer itself…but also from complications of cancer treatments, such as surgery, radiation, and chemo.  

Unfortunately, studies show that nearly half of all cancer survivors get inadequate pain relief—which harms their quality of life, physical functions, and, ultimately, their survival rates. 

Thankfully, instead of just doling out harmful, addictive drugs, a group of U.S. researchers recently looked at the effect of a type of acupuncture in 360 cancer survivors. Each of the survivors experienced pain for at least three months and during at least 15 of the 30 days before enrolling in the trial. And they rated the intensity of their pain as being a four or higher (on a scale of zero to 10 on the Brief Pain Inventory [BPI]). 

At the study’s outset, the researchers divided the survivors into three groups: 

  • Group 1 received electroacupuncture. 
  • Group 2 received ear acupuncture. 
  • Group 3 received traditional care, which sometimes involved pain medication, including opioids and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.  

With electroacupuncture, an experienced practitioner uses small, thin needles—about the width of a hair—and a very low-frequency electric current to stimulate points on the body. It’s different from traditional acupuncture (which doesn’t use a current). However, like traditional acupuncture, it’s customizable to each patient…and the needles come out after each session.  

With ear acupuncture, a practitioner places little studs that look like tiny earrings to stimulate up to 10 points in a patient’s ear. The points are the same for each person, and the needles stay in the person’s ear for three to four days. 

The participants received acupuncture treatments for 30 minutes, once per week, for 10 weeks. 

It turns out, people who received both electroacupuncture and ear acupuncture experienced significant reductions in pain compared to those who received traditional care with or without medication. 

Specifically, electroacupuncture reduced pain severity by 2.4 points and ear acupuncture by 2.1 points on a scale of 0 to 10. By comparison, the traditional care group only received a 0.5 point reduction in pain at the end of 10 weeks.  

I should note that pain experts consider a one-point reduction in pain as clinically meaningful, so the improvements in the acupuncture groups were pretty impressive. Plus, the pain relief from acupuncture lasts for months. Whereas pain relief from medications, which must be taken frequently, only last for hours. Not to mention, taking an opioid drug or even an OTC drug comes with lots of negative side effects. 

Plus, consider this… 

The researchers regarded the acupuncture treatment so superior to traditional care, they offered it to that group in weeks 12 to 22 of the study.  

The key to effective pain relief is controlling inflammation 

As I’ve explained here before, not everyone responds in the same way to acupuncture treatment. And some may have more relief with another type of mind-body approach, such as hypnosis or massage. To learn more about which type of pain relief will work best for you, check out my book, Overcoming Acute and Chronic Pain: Keys to Treatment Based on Your Emotional Type.  

In addition, for any type of pain, I always recommend taking my “ABCs for pain”—ashwagandha, boswellia and curcumin—as a dietary supplement: 

  • Ashwagandha—400 to 500 mg per day  
  • Boswellia—400 to 500 mg per day  
  • Curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric)—400 to 500 mg per day 

Lastly, inflammation is often the underlying cause of pain. So, by controlling inflammation with acupuncture or some other natural approach, you can actually stop pain instead of just masking it with opioid drugs.  

To learn more about the role inflammation plays in chronic pain, I urge you to check out my Protocol for Eliminating Deadly Inflammation. This online learning tool provides remarkably fast and easy ways to reverse this No. 1 cause of disease and aging. To learn more, or to enroll today,click here now. 


“Effectiveness of Electroacupuncture or Auricular Acupuncture vs Usual Care for Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain Among Cancer Survivors: The PEACE Randomized Clinical Trial.”  

 JAMA Oncol. 2021;7(5):720-727. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.0310