Acupressure Can Ease Symptoms of Breast Cancer

July 17, 2016

Acupressure, a technique derived from acupuncture, helped improve sleep and relieved chronic fatigue experienced by women treated for breast cancer.

Acupressure, a technique derived from acupuncture, can help improve sleep and relieve chronic fatigue experienced by women treated for breast cancer, according to the results of a randomized study published in JAMA Oncology.

Six weeks of self-administered acupressure reduced fatigue by as much as 34% among breast cancer survivors compared with those who had no intervention. By week 6, two-thirds of women who had relaxing acupressure achieved normal levels of fatigue.

The results of this phase III trial suggest that this relatively low-cost intervention could help breast cancer patients and survivors manage their daily symptoms and improve quality of life.

Suzanna M. Zick, ND, MPH, of the departments of family medicine and nutritional sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues recruited 270 women from the Michigan Tumor Registry and randomized them 1:1:1 to receive either relaxing acupressure (n = 94), stimulating acupressure (n = 90), or usual care (n = 86) once per day. Women in the two acupressure groups were taught to self-administer the therapy and were assessed for improved fatigue, sleep, and overall quality of life during the 4 weeks following the 6-week treatment. The acupressure-treated groups were compared with women who received usual care, which included sleep-management techniques.

About one-third of women treated for breast cancer experience moderate to severe fatigue during and up to 10 years following the end of treatment, according to the study authors.

“Fatigue is an underappreciated symptom across a lot of chronic diseases, especially cancer. It has a significant impact on quality of life. Acupressure is easy to learn and patients can do it themselves,” noted Zick in a statement.

Acupressure involves applying pressure with fingers or thumbs to specific areas of the body. Acupressure techniques differ depending on which points on the body are targeted. Relaxing acupressure is typically used to treat insomnia while stimulating acupressure is thought to boost energy.

With self-administration of both types of acupressure, breast cancer survivors included in the study maintained a significant improvement in fatigue symptoms while relaxing acupressure also improved measures of sleep quality, including disrupted sleep, and overall quality of life.

At week 6, 66.2% of those in the relaxing-acupressure group, 60.9% of those in the stimulating-acupressure group, and 31.3% in the usual-care group achieved normal fatigue levels. At week 10, 56%, 61%, and 30% of the women in the relaxing-acupressure, stimulating-acupressure, and usual-care groups continued to have normal fatigue levels.

At 6 weeks (though not at 10 weeks), relaxing acupressure showed significant improvements in sleep quality compared with usual care. Relaxing acupressure significantly improved quality of life compared to usual care at both 6 and 10 weeks.

While acupuncture requires administration by a practitioner, acupressure is easily learned and can be self-administered after about 15 minutes of training. “Given the brief training required to learn acupressure, this intervention could be a low-cost option for treating fatigue,” Zick said.

The researchers are currently developing a smartphone application to teach acupressure.