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Curr Oncol. 2013 Jun;20(3):152-7. doi: 10.3747/co.20.1312.

The potential role for acupuncture in treating symptoms in patients with lung cancer: an observational longitudinal study.

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  • 1Peter Brojde Lung Cancer Centre, Montreal, QC. ; Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, QC.



Most lung cancer patients experience multiple symptoms related either to the disease or its treatment. The commonly reported symptoms are pain, depression, anxiety, nausea, and poor well-being. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the effect of acupuncture as a potential treatment modality in symptomatic lung cancer patients.


This prospective observational study enrolled 33 lung cancer patients from the Peter Brojde Lung Cancer Centre between August 2010 and May 2012. All patients received 45-minute sessions of acupuncture, 1-2 times weekly for a minimum of 4 sessions. Symptom severity was assessed using the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (esas) before and after completion of acupuncture.


The study cohort included 30 patients with non-small- cell lung cancer and 3 with small-cell lung cancer. Mean age was 62 years (range: 36-88 years); 17 of the patients were women. Most of the patients had advanced-stage cancer (73%) and good performance status (Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group 0-1: 88%). Of these patients, 67% received anticancer treatment (chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or both) with acupuncture. Of the remaining 10 patients, 8 received acupuncture after a complete surgical resection of their tumour, and because of their advanced age, 2 received acupuncture and best supportive care. The median number of acupuncture sessions was 7 (interquartile range: 4-13 sessions). Statistically significant improvements in pain, appetite, nausea, nervousness, and well-being were observed. A clinically important improvement (2 points on the esas) was reported by 61% of patients for pain and by 33% for well-being. A significant positive correlation between improved well-being and the number of acupuncture sessions was observed. This correlation remained significant even after controlling for treatment and narcotic use. Receiver operating characteristic analysis demonstrated that a minimum of 6 acupuncture sessions are required for a 70% chance of a clinically important improvement in well-being.


The present study is the first to demonstrate that acupuncture may be an effective approach for improving symptoms-in particular, pain and well-being-in lung cancer patients. Acupuncture is a safe and minimally invasive procedure, and it is potentially useful even in patients undergoing anticancer treatment.


Acupuncture; Edmonton Symptom Assessment System; esas; integrative oncology clinics; lung cancer; narcotics; pain

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