Laser Moxibustion Appears to Lessen Cancer-Related Fatigue

August 10, 2016

An infrared laser-based version of the traditional Chinese medicinal technique known as moxibustion was found to improve cancer-related fatigue.

An infrared laser-based version of the traditional Chinese medicinal technique known as moxibustion was found to improve cancer-related fatigue compared to a sham version of the technique in a new randomized study.

“Clinical treatments of cancer-related fatigue have been unsatisfactory, without recognized and effective drug treatments,” wrote study authors led by Xueyong Shen, MD, of the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Moxibustion involves burning of an herb known as moxa on or above the skin at acupoints; there have been few high-quality studies done on this technique, though it has been used for thousands of years to treat a variety of conditions.

In the new study, the researchers used a version of moxibustion involving a 10.6 µm infrared laser, which they wrote mimics the effects of traditional moxibustion but eliminates some of its shortcomings including smoke and dosage control difficulties. The trial included 78 patients (61 of whom completed the full study) with cancer-related fatigue; patients were randomized to either three 20-minute sessions per week for 4 weeks or a sham version of the same treatments, without infrared laser output. The results were published online ahead of print in Cancer.

There were 30 patients in the moxibustion group and 31 in the sham group available for analysis. At baseline, cancer-related fatigue as measured using the Brief Fatigue Inventory was similar between the groups (4.67 in the laser group and 5.03 in the sham group; P = .407).

By week 2 of the study, fatigue scores had dropped to 3.80 in the moxibustion group, compared with 4.70 in the sham group (P = .044). At the end of the 4 weeks of treatment, the difference was more pronounced, at 3.01 vs 4.40 (P = .002). The difference remained at an 8-week follow-up visit as well, at 3.03 vs 4.26 (P = .006).

The authors reported no serious adverse events in either group. Three patients in the laser group had localized erythema, though this resolved within 3 days.

“The findings of the current study suggest that 10.6-μm infrared laser moxibustion holds therapeutic potential as a potentially safe and effective non-pharmacological intervention for cancer-related fatigue,” they concluded. The study was limited by its small size, the significant dropout rate mostly related to worsening condition of the patients, the lack of long-term follow-up, and no usual-care group for comparison.

The authors wrote that longer studies are needed to confirm the benefit of the treatment, as is further research to elucidate what the mechanism behind the clinical effect might be.