Acupuncture Relieves Cancer Chemotherapy Fatigue
Acupuncture could help relieve the crippling fatigue associated with chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients. That is the conclusion of scientists at the University of Manchester, UK, who say their preliminary results are so promising that further research needs to be carried out to study the effect in more detail.
Crippling and long-lasting fatigue is one the most common side-effects of chemotherapy. The new work indicates that acupuncture can boost energy levels and radically improve a patient’s quality of life.
Numerous trials have shown that acupuncture appears to work for a variety of conditions. Last year, two studies demonstrated that acupuncture may help boost fertility after IVF, although a third study failed to demonstrate an effect. The US National Institutes of Health says that acupuncture is an effective treatment for nausea caused by anaesthesia and cancer chemotherapy, as well as dental pain following surgery.
In the latest study, 47 patients suffering from moderate to severe fatigue were enrolled in a randomised placebo-controlled trial at Manchester’s Christie Hospital. The patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups to receive either acupuncture or acupressure – placing physical pressure on acupuncture points with hands or objects – or sham acupressure.
“People felt better and had more energy after the acupuncture,” says Alexander Molassiotis, professor of cancer and supportive care at the University of Manchester who led the work.
“Patients had the energy to walk to the shops and to socialise, so their quality of life improved significantly,” he says.
The acupuncture group received six 20-minute sessions spread over three weeks. During these sessions the characteristic thin needles were inserted about 2 centimetres into the patients’ body at three points. The points were selected for their supposed propensity to boost energy levels and reduce fatigue.
Patients in the acupressure group were taught to massage the same acupuncture points for one minute a day for two weeks. The sham acupressure group was taught the same technique, but told to massage different points on the body not associated with energy and fatigue.
Patients in the acupuncture group reported a 36% improvement in fatigue levels, whilst those in the acupressure group improved by 19%. Those in the sham acupressure group reported a 0.6% improvement.
Molassiotis says that the improvements were not down to the placebo effect. “Our trial was able to take this into account,” he says. But he says a bigger trial is needed to properly characterise the effect and is planning one in the near future.
Nobody is sure how acupuncture actually works, but researchers have previously suggested that it might reduce fatigue by stimulating the body to release endorphins – morphine-like chemicals that block pain signals and induce a feeling of well-being.
Kat Arney, of Cancer Research UK, welcomes the new findings but is more cautious about their significance.
“This was a very small study and bigger randomised controlled trials are needed before we know for sure if acupuncture or acupressure is effective at relieving some of the side effects of cancer therapy,” she says.
1. Journal reference: Complementary Therapies in Medicine (DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2006.09.009)
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