Acupuncture Reduces Fatigue, Depression and Anxiety for Women with Breast Cancer

Fatigue is a common and debilitating problem for many cancer survivors and for those undergoing cancer treatment. Conventional treatments are often insufficient in treating cancer related fatigue. A recent study published in 2012 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology compared the effectiveness of acupuncture to standard care for over 300 women who had been treated for stage I through IIIA breast cancer within the past 5 years and who were still experiencing moderate to severe fatigue1. The acupuncture group received a very short course of treatment (20 minute treatments once per week for 6 weeks) using only 3 acupuncture points. The standard care group received a self-help booklet on fatigue.

Acupuncture was found to significantly improve fatigue for the women in the study compared to those that did not receive acupuncture. Acupuncture was also found to significantly reduce anxiety and depression, as well as improve quality of life. Although the patient's energy levels did not fully return to their pre-cancer treatment levels, in just a short time of 6 weeks acupuncture was able to make significant improvements. Six treatments are typically recommended for acute problems, but with chronic health complaints a longer course of treatment is typically required. With continued treatment, it is likely that even greater improvements could have been achieved.

This is the first large scale study which looks at the effectiveness of acupuncture to treat fatigue. It would have been better if the researchers added a placebo or non-treatment group for statistical comparison, but together with earlier studies 2, 3 there is still strong evidence that acupuncture is successful in treating cancer related fatigue.

You can learn more about cancer and acupuncture by visiting Cancer Support Using Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. Be sure to also check out our Miso Soup with Shiitake recipe which is particularly nourishing and good for those undergoing cancer treatment.

  1. Molassiotis A, Bardy J, Finnegan-John J, Mackereth P, et al. Acupuncture for Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients With Breast Cancer: A Pragmatic Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Oncol. 2012 Oct 29.
  2. Vickers AJ, Straus DJ, Fearon B, et al. Acupuncture for postchemotherapy fatigue: a phase II study. J Clin Oncol. May 1 2004;22(9):1731-1735.
  3. Molassiotis A, Sylt P, Diggins H. The management of cancer-related fatigue after chemotherapy with acupuncture and acupressure: A randomised controlled trial. Complement Ther Med. 2007;15:228–237.