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A UK-based clinical trial suggests that it is feasible to implement acupuncture in a busy radiotherapy unit, when provided by specially trained radiographers. The study employed a pragmatic mixed-methods randomised parallel-group exploratory design to determine the feasibility of delivering acupuncture within a National Health Service setting, as part of routine cancer care. One hundred and one cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy were randomised to receive either standard care plus acupuncture, or standard care alone. Acupuncture was carried out according to a standard treatment protocol designed to treat common symptoms (fatigue, hot flushes, mood and sleep problems). Points used were: two non-traditional Anxiety, Sickness and Dyspnoea acupoints (over the manubrium in the midline, directly above and below Xuanji REN-21), plus Hegu L.I.-4, Taichong LIV-3, Sanyinjiao SP-6 and Zusanli ST-36 bilaterally, with bilateral Neiguan P-6 added for those at high risk of radiotherapy induced nausea and vomiting. Patients received 3-8 weekly acupuncture treatments, determined by their number of radiotherapy treatments. Participants reported that they valued the positive impact and ‘holistic’ nature of acupuncture. Symptoms perceived as being alleviated by acupuncture included fatigue, nausea and vomiting, pain, sleeping problems and dyspnoea. Participants felt they had improved wellbeing and were more ‘positive’ and ‘empowered’. In addition to the perceived beneficial effects of acupuncture, patients also valued the extra care they received from a cancer healthcare professional in a relaxing environment. Although participants qualitatively reported benefit from acupuncture, analysis of quantitative data identified only one treatment effect, on fatigue, in certain subgroups (women and breast cancer), and only at three months after treatment completion. Although participants typically reported other benefits from acupuncture, analysis of quantitative data revealed that no other single quality of life measure was consistently associated with a beneficial effect from acupuncture. The authors suggest more research with larger patient sample sizes in order to determine which outcome measures and time points should be employed in trials of acupuncture in cancer care to detect changes qualitatively reported by patients.

A feasibility trial of acupuncture in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatment. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2021 May;43:101372.