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

Research Paper

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

Gabriel Lopez1✉, M Kay Garcia1, Wenli Liu1, Michael Spano1, Susan Underwood1, Seyedeh S Dibaj2, Yisheng Li2, Rocio Moguel1, Janet Williams1, Eduardo Bruera1, Lorenzo Cohen1

1. Department of Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
2. Department of Biostatistics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


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: Integrative Medicine, Integrative Oncology, Acupuncture, Complementary health approach, Patient Reported Outcomes, Edmonton Symptom Assessment System

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How to cite this article:
Lopez G, Garcia MK, Liu W, Spano M, Underwood S, Dibaj SS, Li Y, Moguel R, Williams J, Bruera E, Cohen L. Outpatient acupuncture effects on patient self-reported symptoms in oncology care: a retrospective analysis. J Cancer 2018; 9(19):3613-3619. doi:10.7150/jca.26527. Available from http://www.jcancer.org/v09p3613.htm