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Tiny needles make big impact on quality of life for cancer patients


To say Annie Budhathoki, DAOM, L.Ac., was skeptical of acupuncture would be an understatement.

“I thought acupuncture was the devil’s work,” she says.

Then she was in a horrific accident. After more than two years of surgeries and recovery, she still had to walk with a cane. She turned to acupuncture as a last resort to relieve the pain in her leg, and quickly became a believer. After three sessions she was able to walk, cane-free.

Annie decided to become an acupuncturist, so she could give the same type of relief to others. She studied for years to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Now, she is a licensed acupuncturist at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI).

In acupuncture treatments, practitioners place needles as fine as hairs into key positions on the body. The treatments are painless and relaxing for most patients. HCI offers acupuncture as a complement to standard-of-care treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy.

Acupuncture can help with the side effects of cancer and its treatments such as nausea, pain, stress, and numbness or tingling in hands and feet. Annie says, “My favorite side effect of acupuncture is stress reduction. Having cancer causes a lot of stress, so immediately that puts patients at ease.”

Gary Felker is one of Annie’s patients. He was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer a few years ago. His treatments left him with neuropathy—numbness in his hands and feet that made him unable to hold things or pick up small items.

He says the acupuncture treatments changed his life. “I could feel a relief,” Gary says. “I could feel the numbness stop spreading.” Gary keeps an upbeat attitude and spends as much time with family and friends as possible. “Acupuncture has allowed me to do all those things,” he says, “because it has kept my neuropathy at a controllable level.”

Most of Annie’s patients have never had acupuncture before. She says they have a lot of questions when they come in, but leave feeling better than before. “They should be able to take a nap, relax, have some time for themselves, and feel rejuvenated,” she says. Annie says most patients see significant results in three to six treatments.

“I have the best job at HCI,” she says. “I hope to continue helping patients recover their quality of life for quite a while.

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, which means it meets the highest standards for cancer research and receives support for its scientific endeavors. HCI is located on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a part of the University of Utah Health Care system. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and operates several high-risk clinics that focus on melanoma and breast, colon, and pancreas cancers, among others. HCI also provides academic and clinical training for future physicians and researchers. For more information about HCI, please visit