Written by Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated July 16, 2015

Acupuncture for treatment-induced leukopenia

Does it work?

The notion that acupuncture might normalise pathologically low leukocyte counts in cancer patients emerged from several Chinese case series (e.g. 10,11) and poorly-controlled studies (e.g. 12). Subsequently, several controlled clinical trials were published and summarised in one systematic review.13

Systematic reviews

This review covered the publication period from 1979 to 2004 and included 11 controlled clinical trials where patients had been randomised to receive either acupuncture or usual care only.13 All the studies came from China and had been published in non-Medline listed Chinese journals. Their quality was rated by the review authors to be poor. Patients were treated once a day for 21 days on average. Only 7 trials published leukocyte counts; a meta-analysis across these studies showed a significant increase of leukocyte counts of 1,221 WBC/muL in the acupuncture compared to the control groups. The authors of the review concluded that the poor quality of the primary studies and publication bias might have generated a false positive overall impression.

Randomised controlled trials

Since the publication of this review, two trials published in journals indexed in English language databases.

A randomised pilot RCT compared acupuncture with sham-acupuncture in 21 patients with chemotherapy-induced leukopenia.14 The authors reported clinically relevant trends towards normalisation of the leukopenia; however, due to the fact that this was merely a small pilot, no conclusions regarding effectiveness can be drawn from this study.

A Chinese team randomised 86 patients with chemotherapy-induced leukopenia into receiving granulocyte colony-stimulating factor with or without acupuncture.15 After 10, 17 and 24 days, the leukocyte counts were higher in the group receiving acupuncture. Apparently, there were no inter-group differences at the end of the follow-up period at 45 days. The study was published in Chinese, and only an English abstract is available which omits important details; interpretation of its results is therefore problematic.

Citation

Karen Pilkington, Edzard Ernst, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Acupuncture for treatment-induced leukopenia [online document]. http://cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Acupuncture-for-treatment-induced-leukopenia. July 16, 2015.

Document history

Revised in July 2015 by Karen Pilkington.
Summary first published in April 2013, authored by Edzard Ernst.

References

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