Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of acupuncture for cancer-related fatigue

Yingchun Zeng, Taizhen Luo, Jennifer Finnegan-John, Shu Kei Cheng

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Background. Fatigue is a distressing and pervasive problem for people with cancer. In recent years, acupuncture has gained increasing attention among researchers as an alternative management strategy for cancer-related fatigue (CRF). This review aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture for CRF. Methods. Five databases (Medline, CINAHL, Scopus, the Cochrane Library, and CAJ Full-text Database) were searched up to May 2013. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of acupuncture for the treatment of CRF were considered for inclusion. Results. Seven RCTs were included for meta-analysis, involving a total of 689 subjects. Three studies compared acupuncture with sham acupuncture for CRF with follow-up at 10 weeks; the standardized mean difference (SMD) for general CRF change values was -0.82 (95% confidence interval [CI] = -1.90 to 0.26). When acupuncture plus education intervention was compared with usual care, there was a statistically significant difference for the change score of general CRF (SMD = -2.12; 95% CI = -3.21 to -1.03). The SMD for general CRF change scores between acupuncture with no treatment or wait-list control was -1.46 (95% CI = -3.56 to 0.63). Finally, the SMD for general CRF change scores between acupuncture with acupressure or self-acupuncture was -1.12 (95% CI = -3.03 to 0.78). Three trials reported data for general quality of life and functioning status, reporting enough data for statistical pooling but showing no statistically significant difference (Z score = 1.15, P =.25, SMD = 0.99, 95% CI = -0.70 to 2.68 and Z score = 1.13, P =.26, SMD = 1.38, 95% CI = -1.02 to 3.79, respectively). The I2 statistics of all statistically pooled data were higher than 50%, indicating heterogeneity between the trials. Conclusions. There were 4 sets of comparison for the effectiveness of acupuncture for CRF; statistical pooling of the reduction in CRF from baseline to follow-up showed in favor of acupuncture. However, 3 sets of comparison for the pooled estimates of effect sizes had no statistical significance. Although one set of comparison (acupuncture plus education interventions vs usual care) had statistically significant differences, it is unclear whether this pooled positive outcome is attributable to the effects of acupuncture or to the education intervention. In addition, the duration of follow-up in these included trials was up to 10 weeks, and some RCTs had methodological flaws. Further rigorously designed RCTs adhering to acceptable standards of trial methodology are required to determine the effectiveness of acupuncture and its long-term effects on CRF.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-200
Number of pages8
JournalIntegrative Cancer Therapies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • acupuncture
  • cancer-related fatigue
  • meta-analysis
  • quality of life
  • randomized controlled trials (RCTs)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Complementary and alternative medicine


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