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Value of Acupuncture

Posted 1/29/2013

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  I have never done a formal study or even a poll among women I have worked with, but I suspect that more have used and valued acupuncture than any other complementary treatment while going through breast cancer. Some women already went to an acupuncturist for one or another reason, but most consider the modality during chemotherapy. Of course not everyone likes it; the negative reactions seem to be related either to a dislike of needles, even little tiny ones, or a vague sense of discomfort with the practioner or the whole process. Most women, however, have told me about an improved sense of general well-being, diminished nausea, greater energy. It is harder to measure reduced anxiety/stress or improved mood, but those things seem to happen, too.

  A few insurances cover the cost of acupuncture, but most do not. It is usually, therefore, important to consider cost as well as geography and the "fit" with the acupuncturist. I maintain a list of practioners who have been recommeded to me by women through the years; feel free to contact me directly if you would like a copy or a few suggestions in your area. If finances are the primary consideration, be aware of the New England School for Acupuncture in Watertown. Yes, you would be treated by a student, but there is professional supervision, and the price is right.

  This is the abstract from a recent survey article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology about the value of acupuncture. If you want to see the whole article, email me, and I will forward it to you.


Systematic Review of Acupuncture in Cancer Care: A Synthesis of the Evidence

M. Kay Garcia, Jennifer McQuade, Robin Haddad, Sonya Patel, Richard Lee, Peiying Yang, J. Lynn Palmer,

and Lorenzo Cohen




Many cancer centers offer acupuncture services. To date, a comprehensive systematic review of

acupuncture in cancer care has not been conducted. The purpose of this review was to evaluate

the efficacy of acupuncture for symptom management in patients with cancer.


Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane (all databases), Scopus, and PubMed were searched from

Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane (all databases), Scopus, and PubMed were searched from

inception through December 2011 for prospective randomized clinical trials (RCT) evaluating

acupuncture for symptom management in cancer care. Only studies involving needle insertion into

acupuncture points were included. No language limitations were applied. Studies were assessed

for risk of bias (ROB) according to Cochrane criteria. Outcomes by symptom were designated as

positive, negative, or unclear.


A total of 2,151 publications were screened. Of those, 41 RCTs involving eight symptoms (pain,

A total of 2,151 publications were screened. Of those, 41 RCTs involving eight symptoms (pain,

nausea, hot flashes, fatigue, radiation-induced xerostomia, prolonged postoperative ileus, anxiety/

mood disorders, and sleep disturbance) met all inclusion criteria. One positive trial of acupuncture

for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting had low ROB. Of the remaining studies, eight had

unclear ROB (four positive, three negative, and one with unclear outcomes). Thirty-three studies

had high ROB (19 positive, 11 negative, and three with both positive and negative outcomes

depending on the symptom)


Acupuncture is an appropriate adjunctive treatment for chemotherapy-induced nausea/vomiting,

but additional studies are needed. For other symptoms, efficacy remains undetermined owing to

high ROB among studies. Future research should focus on standardizing comparison groups and

treatment methods, be at least single-blinded, assess biologic mechanisms, have adequate

statistical power, and involve multiple acupuncturists.


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