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Mayo Clinic’s experiences with acupuncture among breast cancer survivors

Title: Real-world experiences with acupuncture among breast cancer survivors: A cross-sectional survey study


The purpose of this study was to evaluate acupuncture use among breast cancer survivors, including perceived symptom improvements, and referral patterns.


Breast cancer survivors who had used acupuncture for cancer- or treatment-related symptoms were identified using an ongoing prospective Mayo Clinic Breast Disease Registry (MCBDR). Additionally, Mayo Clinic electronic health records (MCEHR) were queried to identify eligible participants. All received a mailed consent form and survey including acupuncture-related questions about acupuncture referrals, delivery, and costs. Respondents were also asked to recall symptom improvements, symptom severity before and after acupuncture treatment, and time to benefit on Likert scales.


Acupuncture use was reported among 415 participants (12.3%) of the MCBDR. Among MCBDR and MCEHR eligible participants, 241 women returned surveys. 193 (82.1%) participants reported a symptomatic benefit from acupuncture and 57 (24.1% of participants reported a “substantial benefit” or “totally resolved my symptoms” (corresponding to 4 and 5 on the 5-point Likert scale). Mean symptom severity decreased by at least 1 point of the 5-point scale for each symptom; the percentage of patients who reported an improvement in symptoms ranged from 56% (lymphedema) to 79% (headache). The majority of patients reported time to benefit as “immediate” (34%) or “after a few treatments” (40.4%). Over half of participants self-referred for treatment, 24.1% were referred by their oncologist. Acupuncture delivery was more frequent in private offices (61.0%) than in hospital or medical settings (42.3%). Twelve participants (5.1%) reported negative side effects, such as discomfort.


Acupuncture is commonly utilized by patients for a variety of breast cancer-related symptoms. However, patients frequently self-refer for acupuncture treatments and most acupuncture care is completed at private offices, rather than medical clinic or hospital settings.


Perceived Benefit of Acupuncture in Breast Cancer Survivors. A) Symptoms prompting acupuncture. Change in severity score is represented in blue as an improvement in severity, in black as worsening severity, and in white as no change. Above each bar indicates the percentage of patients that reported symptom improvement (change in severity score of at least 1). B) Mean change in symptom severity score before and after acupuncture (mean ± SD) P-S pain= post-surgical pain; N/V= nausea/vomiting; TX= treatment. * p-value <0.01


Jacqueline Zayas, Kathryn J. Ruddy, Janet E. Olson,Fergus J. Couch, Brent A. Bauer, Molly J. Mallory, Ping Yang, David Zahrieh, Arjun P. Athreya, Charles L. Loprinzi, and Elizabeth J. Cathcart-Rake. Real-world experiences with acupuncture among breast cancer survivors: A cross-sectional survey study. Support Care Cancer. 2020 Dec; 28(12): 5833–5838.

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