By Dr. Michelle Morges, DVM, MS, DACVIM (Oncology);
Dr. Kendra Pope, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology), CVA, CVCH, CVFT, CVTP
I was hesitant about acupuncture at first. As a veterinary oncologist I have seen the benefits of acupuncture. It was a goal of mine to get certified.
I was not sure how much of a role there would be for acupuncture for a veterinarian like myself who treats only cancer patients. Then I started working with Dr. Kendra Pope. She ultimately inspired me to get certified in acupuncture.
During introductions while at my certification course this past spring, one of the veterinarians taking the course reacted to hearing that I was a veterinary oncologist. She stated that she was a cancer survivor and that “while western medicine saved her life, eastern medicine made her treatments tolerable”. Her experience truly illustrated my vision for how I wanted to integrate acupuncture into my oncology practice.
Those of us who treat cancer wish there was an easy “cure”. We know that depending on their diagnosis patients require treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy to survive. Holistic therapies such as acupuncture cannot battle cancer on their own BUT they can make these treatments much more tolerable and help patients maintain a healthy, balanced immune system. Some of the best outcomes we have in our practice involve a combined western and holistic approach to cancer.
How Does Acupuncture Work?
Acupuncture works by placing small needles along the body in certain “points” which help to receive pain, stimulate the nervous system, support the immune system, and restore balance.
Types of Acupuncture
The traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) approach involves stimulating acupuncture points along meridians, or channels, along the body, influencing different organ systems and maintaining balance and the free flow of energy through the body. A different ideology called medical acupuncture for veterinarians (MAV) involves the knowledge of nerves and neurogenic pathways that are activated leading to the desired effect.
Dr. Pope is trained in TCM while I trained with MAV and regardless of our underlying beliefs of how or why acupuncture works, the bottom line is that we both get very positive results.
Benefits of Acupuncture with Veterinary Cancer
Acupuncture is an attractive treatment modality for dogs and cats with cancer. These patients often have systemic signs related to their cancer or at risk from side effects from their cancer treatment. All symptoms which can be addressed by acupuncture. Further, many of the veterinary patients with cancer are seniors. As such they may suffer from gastrointestinal disorders, weight loss, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, urinary issues that can all be treated as well.
Studies in humans have shown many benefits to acupuncture for cancer patients including:
– Decreased nausea with chemotherapy
– Decreased side effects secondary to radiation therapy
– Increased white blood cells counts while on chemotherapy
– Decrease in tumor related pain
– Improved treatment related anxiety
– Reduced cancer-related fatigue
– Improved sleep while undergoing cancer treatment.
And many more benefits.
Clinical Study of Acupuncture on Veterinary Oncology Patients
We feel strongly that every patient with cancer should receive the benefit of acupuncture. There is no information in humans to suggest that acupuncture has negative or deleterious effects in cancer patients. Sadly, studies are lacking in veterinary medicine but we hope to change that in the near future.
Dr. Pope is currently the primary investigator of a study at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. She is investigating the benefits of acupuncture administered concurrently with chemotherapy in dogs with lymphoma. Patients receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma are assigned to acupuncture or non-acupuncture groups. Blood work results, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and overall quality of life is compared between these two groups to determine the benefit of this treatment.
Data collected from this trial will hopefully be published in the near future to allow for more veterinarians to realize the benefit and the power of these treatments.
Dr. Morges practices acupuncture and Medical Oncology at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, NJ as well as equine and small animal acupuncture at Veterinary Oncology and Wellness. She received her veterinary degree from Colorado State University. In addition, she completed a rotating internship at VCA Veterinary Specialists of Northern Colorado and a specialty internship in oncology at North Carolina State University. Dr. Morges completed her medical oncology residency at Colorado State University and obtained board certification in 2014. Finally, she completed her training in Medical Acupuncture for Veterinarians (MAV) in April 2017.
Dr. Pope currently practices Integrative Medicine and Oncology at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, NJ. She received her veterinary degree from the University of Florida, and certifications in veterinary acupuncture, Chinese herbal therapy, food therapy and Tui-na at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Pope went on to complete a rotating internship and residency at the University of Pennsylvania, and obtained board certification in Oncology in 2015. Currently she is enrolled in the College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies training in Western herbal medicine. *updated 2018, Dr. Kendra Pope is now located at drkendrapope.com and can be found at her office in Red Bank, New Jersey.