Is there a role for acupuncture in the symptom management of patients receiving palliative care for cancer? A pilot study of 20 patients comparing acupuncture with nurse-led supportive care

Acupunct Med. 2011 Sep;29(3):173-9. doi: 10.1136/aim.2011.004044. Epub 2011 Jun 11.


Purpose: A pilot study to document changes in symptoms after acupuncture or nurse-led supportive care in patients with incurable cancer.

Methods: Patients receiving palliative care with estimated survival of at least 3 months were screened with the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS). Patients (n=20) with significant symptoms were randomised to receive weekly acupuncture or nurse-led supportive care for 4 weeks. ESAS scores were obtained before and after each treatment, and weekly for 6 weeks after treatment by telephone.

Results: 42 of 170 patients screened were eligible. 20 gave consent for recruitment. The compliance rate was 90% for acupuncture and 80% for nurse-led supportive care. Total symptom scores were reduced by an average of 22% after each acupuncture visit and by 14% after each supportive care visit. Compared with baseline, ESAS scores at the end of the follow-up period were reduced by 19% for the acupuncture arm and 26% for nurse-led supportive care.

Conclusion: Patients appear to benefit from incorporating acupuncture in the treatment of advanced incurable cancer. Acupuncture was well tolerated with no significant or unexpected side effects. Acupuncture had an immediate effect on all symptoms, whereas nurse-led supportive care had a larger impact 6 weeks after the final session. Both interventions appear helpful to this population and warrant further study.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disease Management
  • Electroacupuncture*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Nursing Care*
  • Palliative Care*
  • Pilot Projects