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Acupuncture for the treatment of post-chemotherapy chronic fatigue: a randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial



Many cancer patients experience persistent fatigue after the completion of chemotherapy. A previous single-arm study provided evidence for an effect of acupuncture in this population. We conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine whether acupuncture reduces post-chemotherapy chronic fatigue more effectively than sham acupuncture.


Cancer patients reporting significant fatigue persisting for at least 2 months following the completion of chemotherapy were randomized to receive once weekly true or sham acupuncture for 6 weeks. Fatigue was evaluated before and after treatment using the Brief Fatigue Inventory (BFI, the primary endpoint). Secondary endpoints included the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and Functional Assessment of Cancer Treatment-General (FACT-G) scores.


One hundred one patients were randomized with 74 (34 true acupuncture; 40 sham control) evaluated for the primary endpoint. BFI scores fell by about one point between baseline and follow-up in both groups with no statistically significant difference between groups. HADS and FACT-G scores also improved in both groups, but there was no significant difference between groups. Patients in the sham acupuncture group crossed over to receive true acupuncture in week 7. No long-term reduction of fatigue scores was observed at the 6-month evaluation.


True acupuncture as provided in this study did not reduce post-chemotherapy chronic fatigue more than did sham acupuncture. The study is limited by the number of patients lost to follow-up. We also cannot exclude the possibility that a more intensive treatment regimen may be more effective.

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The authors would like to thank Carrie Trevisan, Kristofer Prepelica, James Lozada, Marci Coleton, Gria Jacobs, Maria Kryza, and Ingrid Haviland for their assistance in the conduct of the study and the preparation of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Gary Deng.

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Deng, G., Chan, Y., Sjoberg, D. et al. Acupuncture for the treatment of post-chemotherapy chronic fatigue: a randomized, blinded, sham-controlled trial. Support Care Cancer 21, 1735–1741 (2013).

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  • Fatigue
  • Cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Acupuncture