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Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2016;2016:4298420. doi: 10.1155/2016/4298420. Epub 2016 Aug 18.

"The Monkey on Your Shoulder": A Qualitative Study of Lymphoedema Patients' Attitudes to and Experiences of Acupuncture and Moxibustion.

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Supportive Oncology Research Team, Lynda Jackson Macmillan Centre, Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, Rickmansworth Road, Northwood, Middlesex HA6 2RN, UK.
University of Exeter Medical School, Magdalen Road, Exeter EX1 2LU, UK.



Lymphoedema, a distressing consequence of cancer treatment, has significant negative impact on health-related quality of life. Multidisciplinary approaches are needed to improve physical and psychosocial wellbeing. Acupuncture and moxibustion (acu/moxa), two modalities of traditional East Asian medicine, may contribute to improved outcomes for cancer survivors with lymphoedema.


To explore how patients with lymphoedema secondary to cancer treatment perceive and experience acu/moxa treatment.


A qualitative focus group study, nested in a 3-step mixed methods observational study, was carried out in a cancer drop-in and information centre in north-west London.


Six focus groups and one telephone interview were conducted with 23 survivors of breast or head and neck cancer, who had completed up to 13 acu/moxa treatments. Scripts were transcribed, coded, and analysed to identify salient and overarching themes.


Participants described feeling disempowered by cancer treatment and subsequent diagnosis of lymphoedema. Acu/moxa was valued for its whole-person approach and for time spent with a practitioner who cared, listened, and responded. Participants reported changes in physical and psychosocial health, including increased energy levels and reduced pain and discomfort, and feelings of empowerment, personal control, and acceptance. Many were motivated to improve self-care.


Many participants who received acu/moxa treatment reported improved wellbeing and a more proactive attitude towards self-care.

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