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Acupuncture (PDQ®)

  • Posted: 09/23/2005
  • Updated: 01/31/2014

Table 1. Clinical Studies of Acupuncture: Cancer-related Paina

Reference Citation(s) Type of Study Condition Treated No. of Patients: Enrolled; Treated; Controlb Strongest Benefit Reportedc Concurrent Therapy Used (Yes/No/ Unknown)d Level of Evidence Scoree 
[10]RCTGastric cancer pain48; 16 acupuncture and 16 acupuncture point injection of freeze-dried human transfer factor; 16 conventional analgesicsIn long-term treatment, equal or better analgesia than conventional drugsfNo1iiC
[15]RCTCancer pain41 patients treated with NUR combined with opioid analgesics. 43 patients in the control group treated with opioids alone. All the patients enrolled were differentiated as of yin deficiency and meridian blocked syndrome type of TCM.NUR combined with opioid analgesics in cancer pain management was more effective than opioid analgesics alonegYes (combined with opioid analgesics in managing cancer pain)1iiC
[14]RCTCancer pain90; 28 auricular acupuncture; 51 acupuncture at placebo points in ear or auricular seeds fixed at placebo points with adhesivePain intensity decreased by 36% at 2 monthshYes (analgesics and co-analgesics, including tricyclic antidepressants and antiepileptics)1iiC
[11]Nonconsecutive case seriesCancer pain20; 20 auricular acupuncture; noneAverage pain intensity decreased by 43%, using VAS (0–100 mm)iYes (analgesics)3iiiC
[12]Nonconsecutive case seriesCancer-related pain183; 183 acupuncture; none95 (52%) “significantly helped”Yes (analgesics)3iC
[13]Nonconsecutive case seriesCancer pain29; 29 EA; nonePain reduced; injection of analgesics reduced or no longer requiredYes (analgesics)3iC
[9]Best case seriesCancer pain5; 5 auricular EA; noneSymptoms improvedUnknown4

EA = electroacupuncture; No. = number; NUR = Nourishing yin and Unblocking meridians Recipe; RCT = randomized controlled trial; TCM = traditional Chinese medicine; VAS = Visual Analog Scale.
aRefer to text and the NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms for additional information and definition of terms.
bNumber of patients treated plus number of patient controls may not equal number of patients enrolled; number of patients enrolled equals number of patients initially recruited/considered by the researchers who conducted a study; number of patients treated equals number of enrolled patients who were given the treatment being studied AND for whom results were reported.
cStrongest evidence reported that the treatment under study has activity or otherwise improves the well-being of cancer patients.
dConcurrent therapy for symptoms treated (not cancer).
eFor information about levels of evidence analysis and an explanation of the level of evidence scores, refer to Levels of Evidence for Human Studies of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
f P < .05, acupuncture treatment versus conventional analgesics.
g P < .05, combination of traditional Chinese medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbs) and epidural morphine versus placebo.
h P < .0001, acupuncture versus placebo.
i P < .00001, day 60 after start of acupuncture treatment versus day 0.


  1. Niemtzow RC: Integration of complementary disciplines into the oncology clinic. Part I. Acupuncture. Curr Probl Cancer 24 (4): 184-93, 2000 Jul-Aug.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  2. Dang W, Yang J: Clinical study on acupuncture treatment of stomach carcinoma pain. J Tradit Chin Med 18 (1): 31-8, 1998.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  3. Alimi D, Rubino C, Leandri EP, et al.: Analgesic effects of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain. J Pain Symptom Manage 19 (2): 81-2, 2000.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  4. Filshie J, Redman D: Acupuncture and malignant pain problems. Eur J Surg Oncol 11 (4): 389-94, 1985.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  5. Wen HL: Cancer pain treated with acupuncture and electrical stimulation. Mod Med Asia 13 (2): 12-6, 1977. 

  6. Alimi D, Rubino C, Pichard-Léandri E, et al.: Analgesic effect of auricular acupuncture for cancer pain: a randomized, blinded, controlled trial. J Clin Oncol 21 (22): 4120-6, 2003.  [PUBMED Abstract]

  7. Zhang T, Ma SL, Xie GR, et al.: Clinical research on nourishing yin and unblocking meridians recipe combined with opioid analgesics in cancer pain management. Chin J Integr Med 12 (3): 180-4, 2006.  [PUBMED Abstract]