Acupuncture for Cancer-related Fatigue

Mature woman sleeping in her bed

Over half of patients with cancer present with cancer-related fatigue, which is experienced as a deep, persistent fatigue that cannot just be slept off. This fatigue, which negatively impacts quality of life, is often reported as one of the most distressing symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Unfortunately, drug treatment options for this symptom are lacking and so many of our patients at the CCNM Integrative Cancer Centre (CCNM ICC) require energy support. Fortunately, acupuncture has been studied and found to be effective in reducing this fatigue and improving energy.

A recent high quality large study found that acupuncture had a marked effect on fatigue in cancer patients, regardless of cancer treatment, and was particularly helpful among breast cancer patients. This study combined results from 10 randomized clinical trials, which included patients with various cancer types and both those in active treatment as well as those who have completed treatment.

Compared with patients not receiving acupuncture, treated patients demonstrated a significant improvement to energy. Acupuncture sessions ranged from 20 to 30 minutes and varied from one to three times weekly over a period of two to 10 weeks. Acupuncture points differed among the studies, suggesting that the treatment plan can be formulated by the acupuncturist. This is good rationale for choosing a registered acupuncturist who has experience treating patients with cancer, such as Tara Safford at the CCNM ICC. No serious adverse effects were noted in any of the trials and acupuncture was generally regarded as very safe.

The authors also make a note that acupuncture is particularly helpful for this patient population because they often become too weak to undergo other therapies for fatigue, such as exercise that requires physical strength; acupuncture, on the other hand, does not require any activity – patients simply lie in a comfortable position and have the needles do the work.

If you are suffering from a vicious cycle of reduced energy, inactivity and reduced mental and physical performance, consider trying acupuncture as a treatment. The broad effect of acupuncture is valuable for patients with cancer, as supported by this study, as it can work to improve energy, reduce fatigue, and help you get back to healthy functioning.