ASCO 2020: Using Acupuncture to Treat Pain in Cancer Survivors

Dr. Jun Mao with patient
Dr. Jun Mao

Dr. Jun Mao

At the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Virtual Scientific Program, MSK’s Chief of Integrative Medicine, Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE will present a new study comparing the effectiveness of electro-acupuncture (EA) and auricular acupuncture (AA) versus usual care (UC) for chronic musculoskeletal pain in cancer survivors. The study, which will be available on-demand for registered virtual attendees starting on Friday, May 29 at ET, found that among cancer survivors with chronic musculoskeletal pain, both EA and AA effectively reduced pain and improved quality of life.  

More information about the methods, results and, conclusions can be found in the abstract here.

Almost half of cancer patients are undertreated for pain. The results from this study will continue to guide implementation of acupuncture in oncology care to address the unmet pain management needs of cancer survivors,” said Mao.

Dr. Mao and his team conducted a randomized controlled trial of cancer survivors experiencing moderate-severe musculoskeletal pain. EA used a semi-individualized protocol involving electrical stimulation of needles placed in the body. AA used the standardized Battlefield Acupuncture, a type of acupuncture widely used in the military to assist soldiers and veterans with pain relief. This simple technique involves placing up to ten needles in the ears. EA and AA groups received ten weekly treatments, whereas participants in the UC group received standard care prescribed by their providers. The primary endpoint was average pain severity change measured by the Brief Pain Inventory at week 12 compared to baseline. Functional interference and quality of life were secondary outcomes. They analyzed longitudinal mixed-effects models based on intent-to-treat principles.

Compared from baseline to week 12, EA significantly reduced pain severity by 1.9 points and AA significantly reduced pain severity by 1.6 points. AA was non-inferior to EA at reducing pain severity. Both EA and AA also significantly improved functional interference, physical health, and mental health compared to UC.

Acupuncture is a component of traditional Chinese medicine and involves the use of needles, sometimes with electricity, to stimulate points on the body to induce relaxation and restore balance. There is evidence that acupuncture can reduce such symptoms as pain, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, hot flashes, dry mouth, and other side effects caused by radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Acupuncture treatments are generally safe and well tolerated by most people, including children and the elderly.