Outpatient acupuncture effects on patient self-reported symptoms in oncology care: a retrospective analysis

J Cancer. 2018 Sep 8;9(19):3613-3619. doi: 10.7150/jca.26527. eCollection 2018.


Background: Increased access to complementary therapies such as acupuncture at academic medical centers has created new opportunities for management of cancer and cancer treatment related symptoms. Methods: Patients presenting for acupuncture treatment during calendar year 2016 at an outpatient integrative medicine clinic in a comprehensive cancer center were asked to complete a modified Edmonton Symptom Assessment Scale (ESAS; 16 symptoms, score 0-10, 10 worst possible) before and after each visit. ESAS subscales analyzed included global (GDS; score 0-90), physical (PHS, 0-60) and psychological distress (PSS, 0-20). ESAS symptom score change pre/post acupuncture treatment & from baseline visit to first follow up were evaluated by paired t-test. Results: Of 375 participants [mean age 55.6, 68.3% female, 73.9% white, most common cancer diagnosis of breast (32.8%) and thoracic/head & neck (25.9%)], 73.3% had at least one follow up acupuncture treatment [mean 4.6 (SD 5.1) treatments]. Highest/worst symptoms at baseline were poor sleep (3.92), fatigue (3.43), well-being (3.31), and pain (3.29). Statistically significant reduction/improvement (pre/post) was observed for all ESAS symptoms and subscales for the initial acupuncture treatment (p <0.001). Hot flashes had the highest mean reduction (-1.93), followed by fatigue (-1.72), numbness/tingling (-1.70), and nausea (-1.67). Clinically significant reductions were also observed for ESAS subscales of GDS (-12.2), PHS (-8.5), and PSS (-2.6). For symptom change from initial acupuncture treatment to first follow up (pre/pre), statistically and clinically significant improvement was observed for spiritual pain (-1.10; p<0.001) and ESAS subscale of GDS (-6.09; p=0.048). Clinical response rates (reduction ≥1) on follow up were highest for symptoms of spiritual pain (58.9%), dry mouth (57.8%) and nausea (57.3%). Conclusions: Outpatient acupuncture was associated with immediate & longitudinal significant improvement across a range of symptoms commonly experienced by individuals during cancer care. Further research is needed to better understand frequency of treatments needed in clinical practice to help maintain benefit.

Keywords: Acupuncture; Complementary health approach; Edmonton Symptom Assessment System; Integrative Medicine; Integrative Oncology; Patient Reported Outcomes.