Researchers at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, compared acupuncture to nurse-led supportive care in patients with incurable cancer.

First, the details.

  • 20 patients with significant symptoms and an estimated survival of at least 3 months were randomly assigned to a treatment group for 4 weeks.
    • Weekly acupuncture
    • Nurse-led supportive care
  • The Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) was recorded weekly during the study and for 6 weeks after treatment by telephone before and after each treatment.

And, the results.

  • The compliance rate was 90% for acupuncture and 80% for nurse-led supportive care.
  • Total symptom scores were reduced by 22% after each acupuncture visit and by 14% after each supportive care visit.
  • Acupunture
    • At 6 weeks the score was reduced by 2.75 for shortness of breath and 1-1.5 for tiredness, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, and a lack of well-being.
    • Pain, nausea, and loss of appetite improved during acupuncture, but the benefit was transient, and scores were 0.25–1.5 higher at 6 weeks.
  • Nurse-led support
    • At 6 weeks the score was reduced by 2.0-2.5 for nausea, depression, anxiety, drowsiness and a lack of well-being.
    • Pain, tiredness, and loss of appetite were reduced by 1.25-1.5.
  • Compared with the start of the study, ESAS scores at the end of the follow-up period were reduced by 19% for acupuncture and 26% for nurse-led supportive care.

The bottom line?

The authors concluded, “Patients appear to benefit from incorporating acupuncture in the treatment of advanced incurable cancer… Acupuncture had an immediate effect on all symptoms, whereas nurse-led supportive care had a larger impact 6 weeks after the final session.”

There’s no substitution for a good nurse.

10/27/11 21:36 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.