Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults



Acupuncture for cancer pain in adults


Journal Publication





Research Type

Systematic Review



BACKGROUND: Forty percent of individuals with early or intermediate stage cancer and 90% with advanced cancer have moderate to severe pain and up to 70% of patients with cancer pain do not receive adequate pain relief. It has been claimed that acupuncture has a role in management of cancer pain and guidelines exist for treatment of cancer pain with acupuncture. OBJECTIVES: To evaluate efficacy of acupuncture for relief of cancer-related pain in adults. SEARCH STRATEGY: CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, and SPORTDiscus were searched up to November 2010 including non-English language papers. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating any type of invasive acupuncture for pain directly related to cancer in adults of 18 years or over. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: It was planned to pool data to provide an overall measure of effect and to calculate the number needed to treat to benefit, but this was not possible due to heterogeneity. Two review authors (CP, OT) independently extracted data adding it to data extraction sheets. Quality scores were given to studies. Data sheets were compared and discussed with a third review author (MJ) who acted as arbiter. Data analysis was conducted by CP, OT and MJ. MAIN RESULTS: Three RCTs (204 participants) were included. One high quality study investigated the effect of auricular acupuncture compared with auricular acupuncture at 'placebo' points and with non-invasive vaccaria ear seeds attached at 'placebo' points. Participants in two acupuncture groups were blinded but blinding wasn't possible in the ear seeds group because seeds were attached using tape. This may have biased results in favour of acupuncture groups. Participants in the real acupuncture group had lower pain scores at two month follow-up than either the placebo or ear seeds group.There was high risk of bias in two studies because of low methodological quality. One study comparing acupuncture with medication concluded that both methods were effective in controlling pain, although acupuncture was the most effective. The second study compared acupuncture, point-injection and medication in participants with stomach cancer. Long-term pain relief was reported for both acupuncture and point-injection compared with medication during the last 10 days of treatment. Although both studies have positive results in favour of acupuncture they should be viewed with caution due to methodological limitations, small sample sizes, poor reporting and inadequate analysis. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is insufficient evidence to judge whether acupuncture is effective in treating cancer pain in adults.



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