Researchers from Florida, Minnesota, and the Arizona Mayo Clinic have found evidence from systematic reviews that acupuncture is safe and effective in relieving cancer pain. Acupressure and laser acupuncture were excluded from the study; however, needle-punching acupuncture, electroacupuncture, auricular acupuncture, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS), and scalp acupuncture were included. The researchers note that excluding acupressure and laser acupuncture from the survey reduces heterogeneity and improves the quality of the results.
The researchers note: “Evidence suggests that acupuncture is effective and safe in managing cancer pain in palliative settings. ”  However, researchers from the Mayo Clinic and Jinan University add that more studies are needed to confirm the results.
The research team notes: “Our review addresses the unmet need for acupuncture in the treatment of palliative care. ”  They explain that the lack of access and use of palliative care is due in part to a fundamental misunderstanding of pain management. One of the salient points raised by the team is that palliative care is misinterpreted as end-of-life care. The amalgamation of palliative care and end-of-life care leads to delays and late medical referrals. Researchers estimate that about 10% of patients requiring palliative care actually receive it.
This is a groundbreaking study because it focuses on acupuncture administered in a palliative care setting. The researchers note that there are numerous studies (including meta-analyzes) concluding that acupuncture is effective in relieving cancer pain. However, none have specifically identified the palliative care medical setting as the only place where care is received.
This survey only looked at acupuncture as a palliative care measure, especially for pain relief only. They note that other investigations have included other symptoms, including nausea, depression, side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and fatigue. This targeted approach to investigation aims to meet specific pain management needs.
The researchers note that a multidisciplinary approach to pain management in cancer patients is necessary because of the “multifactorial and complex nature of cancer pain”.  They add that many cancer patients, including those who receive opioids, report inadequate pain relief. In addition, many patients experience side effects associated with taking pain relieving drugs and are therefore unable to take them. As a result, the research team indicates that interdisciplinary care is a necessary component of pain management.
The researchers note that “acupuncture has long been used for the treatment of pain, and substantial evidence supports that acupuncture is effective in managing pain.” [4–6] They add that acupuncture is often used to relieve cancer pain, but is also used to treat drug side effects and reduce drug dosage levels. Additionally, they note that scientific evidence indicates that acupuncture alleviates nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, and leukopenia induced by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
The research team consisted of researchers from the Mayo Clinic in three US states (Florida, Minnesota, Arizona) and an additional researcher from the University of Jinan (Guangzhou, China). The investigation team presents a global message that, based on the current positive results for patients obtained through the use of acupuncture, further research on acupuncture is warranted to confirm the results of the study.
1. Yang, Juan, Dietlind L. Wahner-Roedler, Xuan Zhou, Lesley A. Johnson, Alex Do, Deirdre R. Pachman, Tony Y. Chon, Manisha Salinas, Denise Millstine and Brent A. Bauer. “Acupuncture for the palliative management of cancer pain: a systematic review.” BMJ supportive and palliative care.
Mayo Clinic: Jacksonville, Florida; Rochester, Minnesota; Scottsdale, Arizona. School of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Jinan University (Guangzhou, China).
4. Vickers AJ, Cronin AM, Maschino AC, et al. Acupuncture for chronic pain: meta-analysis of individual patient data. Arch Intern Med 2012; 172: 1444–53.
5. Cho YH, Kim CK, Heo KH et al. Acupuncture for acute postoperative pain after back surgery: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain Practice 2015; 15: 279-91.
6. Murakami M, Fox L, MP for Dijkers. Ear acupuncture for immediate pain relief-A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Pain Med 2017; 18: 551–64.