Acupuncture for palliative cancer pain management: systematic review


Background: Pain is one of the most common and problematic symptoms encountered by patients with cancer. Due to the multifactorial aetiology, pain management of these patients frequently requires multidisciplinary interventions including conventional support and specialty palliative care. Acupuncture has been identified as a possible adjunctive therapy for symptom management in cancer pain, and there is currently no systematic review focused solely on the evidence of acupuncture on cancer pain in palliative care.

Objective: To critically analyse currently available publications regarding the use of acupuncture for pain management among patients with cancer in palliative care settings.

Methods: Multiple academic databases were searched from inception to 29 October 2020. Randomised controlled trials involving acupuncture in palliative care for treatment of cancer-related pain were synthesised. Data were extracted by two independent reviewers, and methodological quality of each included study was assessed using the Oxford Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (OCEBM) 2011 Levels of Evidence.

Results: Five studies (n=189) were included in this systematic review. Results indicated a favourable effect of acupuncture on pain relief in palliative care for patients with cancer. According to OCEBM 2011 Levels of Evidence, they were level 2 in one case (20%), level 3 in two cases (40%) and level 4 in the remaining (40%). Low-level evidence adversely affects the reliability of findings.

Conclusions: Acupuncture may be an effective and safe treatment associated with pain reduction in the palliative care of patients with cancer. Further high-quality, adequately powered studies are needed in the future.

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