Purpose: To determine whether improvement in postchemotherapy fatigue following acupuncture treatment is substantial enough to warrant a controlled trial.
Patients and methods: We accrued patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who had completed cytotoxic chemotherapy but experienced persisting fatigue. Patients with severe anemia, clinical depression, or Karnofsky performance status score less than 70 were excluded. Thirty-seven patients were registered in two cohorts; 31 provided follow-up data. Patients received acupuncture either twice per week for 4 weeks (25 patients) or once per week for 6 weeks (12 patients). The primary end point was change in score on the Brief Fatigue Inventory between baseline and 2 weeks after the final treatment. A baseline Brief Fatigue Inventory score of four or greater was an eligibility requirement for the trial.
Results: Patients had completed cytotoxic chemotherapy an average of more than 2 years previously. Baseline fatigue scores were high, with approximately half of the sample scoring in the "severe" range. Mean improvement following acupuncture was 31.1% (95% CI, 20.6% to 41.5%), meeting our prespecified criterion for declaring acupuncture worthy of further study. Increasing age was associated with poorer response and failure to complete the study. There was no important difference in improvement following once-weekly and twice-weekly treatments.
Conclusion: Acupuncture is worthy of further study in the treatment of postchemotherapy fatigue.