Context: High-dose chemotherapy poses considerable challenges to emesis management. Although prior studies suggest that acupuncture may reduce nausea and emesis, it is unclear whether such benefit comes from the nonspecific effects of attention and clinician-patient interaction.
Objective: To compare the effectiveness of electroacupuncture vs minimal needling and mock electrical stimulation or antiemetic medications alone in controlling emesis among patients undergoing a highly emetogenic chemotherapy regimen.
Design: Three-arm, parallel-group, randomized controlled trial conducted from March 1996 to December 1997, with a 5-day study period and a 9-day follow-up.
Setting: Oncology center at a university medical center.
Patients: One hundred four women (mean age, 46 years) with high-risk breast cancer.
Interventions: Patients were randomly assigned to receive low-frequency electroacupuncture at classic antiemetic acupuncture points once daily for 5 days (n = 37); minimal needling at control points with mock electrostimulation on the same schedule (n = 33); or no adjunct needling (n = 34). All patients received concurrent triple antiemetic pharmacotherapy and high-dose chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide, cisplatin, and carmustine).
Main outcome measures: Total number of emesis episodes occurring during the 5-day study period and the proportion of emesis-free days, compared among the 3 groups.
Results: The number of emesis episodes occurring during the 5 days was lower for patients receiving electroacupuncture compared with those receiving minimal needling or pharmacotherapy alone (median number of episodes, 5, 10, and 15, respectively; P<.001). The electroacupuncture group had fewer episodes of emesis than the minimal needling group (P<.001), whereas the minimal needling group had fewer episodes of emesis than the antiemetic pharmacotherapy alone group (P =.01). The differences among groups were not significant during the 9-day follow-up period (P =.18).
Conclusions: In this study of patients with breast cancer receiving high-dose chemotherapy, adjunct electroacupuncture was more effective in controlling emesis than minimal needling or antiemetic pharmacotherapy alone, although the observed effect had limited duration. JAMA. 2000;284:2755-2761.