By inserting very thin needles at specific points on the body and passing a mild electric current between them, electroacupuncture can relieve some side effects and symptoms common during cancer.

How can electroacupuncture help me? What the research says

We summarize the clinical evidence for each medical benefit here. We begin with our assessment of the strength of evidence within each category, followed by a brief summary of individual studies or reviews of several studies. In assessing the strength of evidence, we consider the study design, number of participants, and the size of the treatment effect (how much outcomes changed with treatment).

Learn more about how we research and rate therapies.

Evidence from preclinical studies is summarized in Are you a health professional? >

Optimizing your body terrain

Does electroacupuncture promote an environment within your body that is less supportive of cancer development, growth, or spread? We present the evidence.

Bleeding and coagulation imbalance

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of lower markers of coagulation among women with a noncancer medical condition treated with electroacupuncture

Immune function

Preliminary evidence of better immune function among people with rectal cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Inflammation

Preliminary evidence of anti-inflammatory activity among people with cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Managing side effects and promoting wellness

Is electroacupuncture linked to fewer or less severe side effects or symptoms? Is it linked to less toxicity from cancer treatment? Does it support your quality of life or promote general well-being? We present the evidence.

Anxiety

Preliminary evidencesignificant effects in small or poorly designed clinical studies OR conflicting results in adequate studies but a preponderance of evidence of an effect (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less anxiety among people with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Depression

Preliminary evidence of less depression among people with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Fatigue

Preliminary evidence of less fatigue among people with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Modest evidencesignificant effects in at least three small but well-designed randomized controlled trials (RCTs), or one or more well-designed, mid-sized clinical studies of reasonably good quality (RCTs or observational studies), or several small studies aggregated into a meta-analysis (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less vomiting among people with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy treated with electroacupuncture

Preliminary evidence of less nausea and vomiting after major breast surgery among people treated with electroacupuncture

Weak evidenceone or more case studies, supported by animal evidence OR small treatment effects of limited clinical significance OR studies with no controls OR weak trends of effects (this is the CancerChoices definition; other researchers and studies may define this differently) of less diarrhea during or after chemotherapy among people with breast cancer  treated with electroacupuncture

Hot flashes

Modest evidence of lower scores on or fewer hot flashes among women with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture, including when compared to gabapentin

Neuropathy and other neurological symptoms

No evidence of an effectoverall, one or more studies did not demonstrate that a treatment or intervention led to an expected outcome; this does not always mean that there is no effect in clinical practice, but that the studies may have been underpowered (too few participants) or poorly designed. Larger, well-designed studies provide more confidence in making assessments. on chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathydamage to the peripheral nerves outside the brain and spinal cord

Oral symptoms

Weak evidence of fewer symptoms of dry mouth among people with cancer and/or who had been treated with radiotherapy treated with acupuncture‐like electrostimulation

Pain

Preliminary evidence of less pain among people with cancer treated with electroacupuncture and analgesic compared to analgesic alone, but not compared to sham

Preliminary evidence of less surgery-related pain among people treated with electroacupuncture

Preliminary evidence of fewer headaches among people with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture during or after chemotherapy

Preliminary evidence of less chronic musculoskeletal pain among people with cancer treated with electroacupuncture compared to usual care

Quality of life and physical function

Preliminary evidence of better activity and well-being among people with chronic pain treated with auricular electroacupuncture

Weak evidence of less stiffness and better function among women with breast cancer with joint pain due to aromatase inhibitor therapy who are treated with electroacupuncture

Sleep disruption

Preliminary evidence of better sleep among people with breast cancer experiencing daily hot flashes treated with electroacupuncture

Weak evidence of less sleep disturbance among people with breast cancer experiencing joint pain related to aromatase inhibitors treated with electroacupuncture

Other side effects and symptoms

Preliminary evidence of lower incidence of pneumonia and acute pulmonary injury after surgery for pulmonary carcinoma among people treated with electroacupuncture during surgery

Weak evidence of less ringing in ears (tinnitus) during or after chemotherapy among people with breast cancer treated with electroacupuncture

Symptoms and side effects not specific to cancer

Preliminary evidence of less depression or pain, and better quality of life, sleep, and activity among people treated with electroacupuncture

Keep reading about electroacupuncture

Author

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
View profile

Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
View profile

Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Reviewer

Dr. Ryan is a research associate for CancerChoices. She is a licensed and board certified naturopathic physician and acupuncturist in Oregon. Dr. Ryan is the founder of Gentle Natural Wellness, a clinic specializing in bridging classical Chinese medicine with naturopathic medicine to provide individualized, compassionate care for people in the community. A Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine and Master of Science in Oriental Medicine with honors from the National University of Natural Medicine, research in medical anthropology at the University of Hawai’i and George Mason University, language and culture programs at Obirin University (Tokyo) and Sogang University (Seoul), and studies of Chinese herbal medicine and qigong in China have provided a diverse background that has helped form a foundation for her community health and healing path.

Emily Ryan, ND, MSOM, LAc Research Associate

Last update: May 16, 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

References[+]