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Efficacy of complementary and alternative medicine therapies in relieving cancer pain


Despite widespread popular use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, a rigorous evidence base about their efficacy for cancer-related pain is lacking. This is a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating CAM therapies for cancer-related pain. METHODS: RCTs using CAM interventions for cancer-related pain were abstracted using Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED, and Cochrane database. RESULTS: Eighteen trials were identified (eight poor, three intermediate, and seven high quality based on Jadad score), with a total of 1,499 patients. Median sample size was 53 patients, and median intervention duration was 45 days. All studies were from single institutions, four had sample size justification, and none reported any adverse effects. Seven trials reported significant benefit for the following CAM therapies: acupuncture (n = 1), support groups (n = 2), hypnosis (n = 1), relaxation/imagery (n = 2), and herbal supplement/HESA-A (n = 1, but study was of low quality without control data). Seven studies reported immediate postintervention or short-term benefit of the following CAM interventions: acupuncture (n = 2), music (n = 1), herbal supplement/Ai-Tong-Ping (n = 1), massage (n = 1), and healing touch (n = 2). Four studies reported no benefit of CAM interventions (music, n = 2; massage, n = 2) in reducing cancer pain compared with a control arm. CONCLUSION: There is paucity of multi-institutional RCTs evaluating CAM interventions for cancer pain with adequate power, duration, and sham control. Hypnosis, imagery, support groups, acupuncture, and healing touch seem promising, particularly in the short term, but none can be recommended because of a paucity of rigorous trials. Future research should focus on methodologically strong RCTs to determine potential efficacy of these CAM interventions.

Department of Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, MN, USA.






Posted: 02/26/2007

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