Written by Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated August 13, 2015

Acupuncture in cancer pain

Abstract and key points

  • Acupuncture entails needling of specific points on the body surface.
  • The evidence on acupuncture in cancer pain is not conclusive.
  • Serious complications are probably rare.

Acupuncture usually entails needling specific points of the body surface. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) philosophy, illness is caused by imbalances of energies or a disruption to the flow of energy in the body and acupuncture is seen as a treatment that corrects these problems. Many practitioners advocate its use for a wide range of conditions and symptoms.

According to the most reliable evidence, a systematic review from 2012 including 15 RCTs and a Cochrane review from 2011, no firm conclusions about the effectiveness of acupuncture for controlling cancer pain could be drawn. Most trials generated positive results but the trials had methodological limitations and were associated with a high risk of bias.

Mild adverse effects can be expected in about 10% of all cases and serious complications, such as pneumothorax and hepatitis, seem to be rare.

Read about the regulation, supervision and reimbursement of acupuncture at NAFKAMs website CAM Regulation.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Acupuncture for cancer pain [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Acupuncture-for-cancer-pain. August 13, 2015.

Document history

Most recently updated in August 2015 by Karen Pilkington.

Revised and updated in June 2012 by Edzard Ernst.

First published in March 2011, authored by Edzard Ernst.

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