Acupuncture may help ease cancer-related fatigue

30 October 2012 - 12:34 By Reuters
Acupucture has been shown to reduce inflammation provoked by sepsis.
Acupucture has been shown to reduce inflammation provoked by sepsis.
Image: ©Bork/

Acupuncture may help relieve fatigue in women who have had breast cancer, as well as easing anxiety, depression and quality of life, according to a UK study.

Cancer and cancer treatments can cause chronic pain, psychological stress and anemia, all of which contribute to fatigue. In addition, people who are nauseated after chemo might not be getting the most nutritious diet for maintaining energy levels.

For the research, which appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, Alexander Molassiotis from the University of Manchester and his colleagues tracked 227 women with moderate or severe cancer-related fatigue treated with six weekly acupuncture sessions and another 75 fatigued women who did not get acupuncture.

The women had all received chemotherapy for breast cancer in the five years before the study, and most had felt chronically tired for a year or more. Participants were given a booklet about cancer-related fatigue when they started the study.

After six weeks, general fatigue had dropped by almost four point on a 0-20 scale among women who had acupuncture, compared to a less than one point decline in the comparison group.

“Acupuncture is an effective intervention for managing the symptom of chemo-related fatigue and improving patients’ quality of life,” wrote Molassiotis and his colleagues.

The improvement was “mild to moderate,” according to Amit OVRSood at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota — not enough to allow someone who is stuck in bed to start walking, but maybe enough to get people who are too tired to exercise to start doing some activity.

Anxiety and depression scores, measured from 0 to 21, dropped by two additional points post-acupuncture, compared to scores in women given educational materials only. Emotional and physical well-being got a greater boost with acupuncture therapy as well, Malassiotis and his team found.

The study did not prove it was the needles themselves that boosted the women’s energy levels, and researchers could not tell how much of the benefit might have been due to the “placebo effect” — feeling better because they expected to.

According to an editorial published with the study, close to one-third of cancer patients have persistent fatigue that may continue for years after treatment. Doctors typically encourage moderate exercise and talk therapy to improve their energy, wrote psychologist Julienne Bower, from the University of California, Los Angeles.

But Carol Enderlin, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said acupuncture may help as an add-on.

She recommended “maintaining activity to tolerance, unless there are other problems with that, good nutrition, getting adequate sleep, and if the fatigue continues, considering there might be an alternative that complements those things.”