Acupuncture for Radical Breast Surgery

Surgery is generally the primary treatment for breast cancer and aims to remove local and regional disease. Radical mastectomy, designed to remove cancer from the primary site to regional lymph nodes was designed with this in mind.  However, more recently treatment has been modified and mastectomy subcategorised into partial mastectomy, lumpectomy, wide excision or segmental mastectomy. Combined with other therapies such as radiotherapy there may be a substantial reduction in the recurrence rate of the cancer.

Surgery can induce a range of unpleasant side effects including pain, nausea (post anaesthetic), diminished mobility, bruising and fatigue.  Where the axillary nodes have been affected, there is a possibility that lymphoedema may occur.  This causes the affected arm to swell and become painful and the condition is often chronic.

Radical Breast Surgery and TCM


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be used to strengthen the body and relieve the side effects of treatment.  The combination of Western and Chinese measures to complement each other can achieve a far better effect than relying solely upon one form of treatment.

From a TCM perspective, surgery is an externally inflicted wound which affects the free flow of Qi, blood and body fluids, reduces the amount of energy available and causes blood to flow less freely.  TCM has been shown to work successfully both before and after surgery, reducing nausea, vomiting and pain as well as helping to calm patients prior to treatment.  Loss of range of motion may be treated with acupuncture and herbal medicine as appropriate.

There are specific protocols used in the treatment of post-operative patients who have had radical surgery; acupuncture should not be used in the arm on the side where the breast and axilllary nodes have been treated for example.

Is Acupuncture Treatment Helpful after Radical Breast Surgery?


There is considerable research into the effectiveness of TCM on post-operative side effects.   Alem and Gurgel (2008) report on successful clinical trials involving women who experienced lymphoedema after surgery, in which acupuncture was associated with improvement in most of the parameters studied.

He et al (1999) also indicate that acupuncture can alleviate pain and help to improve movement after surgery, whilst Mehling et al (2007) showed that acupuncture and massage can alleviate pain and depression.  Cohen et al (2002) report that acupuncture and herbal treatments can treat conditions such as constipation, as well as pain and that TCM helps wound healing, aids nerve regeneration, enhances the immune system and reduces scarring.



Cohen, I., Tagliaferri, M., Tripathy, D. (2002) ‘(Part 2) Traditional Chinese Medicine in the treatment of breast cancer’, Journal of Chinese Medicine

He JP, Friedrich M, Ertan AK, Muller K, Schmidt W (1999) ‘Pain-relief and movement improvement by acupuncture after ablation and axillary lymphadenectomy in patients with mammary cancer.’ Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol Vol 26 pp 81-84.

Lahans, T (2007) Integrating Conventional and Chinese Medicine in Cancer Care: A Clinical Guide, Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone

Mehling WE, Jacobs B, Acree M, Wilson L, Bostrom A, West J, Acquah J, Burns B, Chapman J, Hecht FM (2007) ‘Symptom management with massage and acupuncture in postoperative cancer patients: a randomised controlled trial.’

J Pain Symptom Manage Vol 33 pp258-266


The Sean Barkes Clinic does not claim to cure any conventional medical disease states. Traditional Chinese Medicine seeks to re-establish and maintain the harmonious function of the human body-mind using tried and tested principles that have been discovered and matured over millennia. A Western medical diagnosis provides very little by way of insight in informing a Chinese Medical diagnosis. Patients usually recognise their own condition in terms of the medical disease category that they have been given by their GP or other conventional medical practitioner. The research presented here is merely an indication of the potential to draw parallels between Traditional Chinese Medicine and Modern Western Medicine.