One of the interesting developments at the Summer Olympics has been the sudden appearance of red circles on athletes’ skin. It turns out Michael Phelps and others are displaying signs of “cupping,” one of the more unusual ‘health’ practices around.
This has led to questions about the technique’s use not only to treat the pain of athletics, but other conditions, including cancer. We asked Ted Gansler, MBA, MD, MPH, strategic director of pathology research, what’s known about the treatment.
“According to a recent review , ‘Cupping therapy may have benefit in treating pain-related conditions, acne and facial paralysis, however, confirmed conclusions could not be drawn due to the low quality of the original studies.’
“In other words, these studies were conducted in ways that do not provide convincing evidence of benefit. Because of the nature of this treatment, a substantial placebo effect is possible. It is also likely that consensus is biased because studies reporting some benefit are more likely to be published than those that did not. Furthermore, there is no scientific rationale for expecting any health benefit from cupping.
“There is absolutely no credible evidence that cupping can cure cancer or shrink tumors. However, serious side effects from cupping are unlikely. The most likely harm for people with cancer is that they might choose cupping instead of science-based treatments that are proven to help them live longer and relieve symptoms.
“For people with cancer who want to try non-mainstream, complementary methods in addition to conventional treatment for relief of pain, there are several (massage therapy, music therapy, acupuncture, and exercise) that have more promising evidence, according to the Society of Integrative Oncology.”