Would acupuncture help before neuro surgery for a tumor?

Q:  My son, John aged 31 years, has just been diagnosed with a very large ganglioglioma tumor 9,5cm x 6cm x 4,5cm on the right hemisphere. He has been living with this tumor since a child. So far  he is only suffering headaches, no convulsions. We understand that he will need neuro surgery which may take a couple of months to organise. Our question is what can we reasonably expect from acupuncture whilst waiting for the operation?

A: As you might expect there is no research save a few case studies which we can find about the treatment of ganglioglioma itself with acupuncture, so there is nothing we can usefully add about the treatment of the problem. Surgical resection, especially in the young adult otherwise in good health, shows a reasonably high rate of success, with recurrence levels being quite low unless the tumour has been difficult to remove fully because of its location.

 We are aware that there are ways of looking at problems like this from a Chinese medicine perspective which might give someone expectations that acupuncture treatment will offer a 'cure'. The ancient Chinese did not have the benefit of MRI and X-ray images, and from their perspective any accumulation of fluids or tissue in the body represented a functional disturbance whose origins could be traced to particular Organs of the Body (capitalised because this means something specific and different in Chinese medicine). If this were the case then there would be other signs and symptoms to guide the practitioner, and some hope of dealing with this as a systemic functional disturbance.

 However, it is very dangerous to translate between 'oranges and apples' medical systems because there will be unintended implications that working in one will deal with a problem in the other. What we can say, however, based on our own experience is that acupuncture treatment can have a demonstrable effect in reducing someone's anxiety levels, and anecdotally appears to aid recovery after surgery. The early systems of acupuncture were largely asymptomatic but aimed primarily at establishing balance and harmony in the body's energetic flow and functions in the simple belief that a system in balance was best placed to address any health issues it had. 

 On that basis we would certainly be happy to recommend that your son has treatment in preparation for what might be some very difficult times ahead, but not with any expectation that it would reduce or delay the need for surgery. The fact that he has been carrying this for over twenty years suggests that it is not rapidly growing, and that surgery will be successful. We certainly hope so for his and your sake.  

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