Background: Acupuncture is commonly used for cancer-related conditions worldwide, and evidence is increasing year on year. There is a need to summarize the evidence of acupuncture for cancer-related conditions comprehensively and critically.
Objective: To evaluate and summarize the systematic reviews (SRs) that assess the effects and safety of acupuncture for cancer-related conditions, and to inform clinical practice and future studies.
Methods: A comprehensive search was conducted on Pubmed, Embase, the Cochrane Library, Web of Science, CNKI, VIP, Sinomed, and Wanfang from their inception to October 16, 2021. SRs of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on acupuncture for cancer-related conditions were to be included. Two reviewers screened the eligible articles, and four reviewers in pair extracted data and assessed the methodological quality/risk of bias of all included reviews by AMSTAR 2 and ROBIS tools. The overlap of primary studies was measured by calculating corrected covered areas. Data from the included reviews were synthesized with a summary of meta-analysis or narrative description.
Results: Fifty-one SRs of RCTs on acupuncture for cancer-related conditions were included and synthesized. The methodological quality of SRs included 1 “high”, 5 “low” and 45 “very low” by AMSTAR 2. Sixteen SRs assessed as low risk of bias (31.37%), and 35 SRs had high risk of bias (68.63%) by ROBIS. Acupuncture showed effective on systemic conditions in relation to different cancers, including cancer-related pain (17 SRs, 80 RCTs), fatigue (7 SRs, 18 RCTs), insomnia (4 SRs, 10 RCTs), quality of life (2 SRs, 15 RCTs); conditions in relation to chemo-radiotherapy, including nausea and vomiting (3 SRs, 36 RCTs) and bone marrow suppression (2 SRs, 21 RCTs); and conditions in relation to specific cancers, including breast cancer-related menopause (3 SRs, 6 RCTs), hot flashes (12 SRs, 13 RCTs), arthralgia (5 SRs, 10 RCTs), and nasopharyngeal cancer-related dysphagia (1 SRs, 7 RCTs). Acupuncture appeared to have benefit for patients with lymphoedema (3 SRs, 3 RCTs), gastrointestinal function (5 SRs, 27 RCTs), and xerostomia (4 SRs, 7 RCTs). Limited evidence showed inconsistent results on acupuncture for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (3 SRs, 6 RCTs), depression and anxiety (3 SRs, 9 RCTs). Acupuncture was regarded as a safe therapy for cancer patients as no severe adverse events related were reported.
Conclusion: Evidence from SRs showed that acupuncture is beneficial to cancer survivors with cancer-related pain, fatigue, insomnia, improved quality of life, nausea and vomiting, bone marrow suppression, menopausal symptoms, arthralgia, and dysphagia, and may also be potential for lymphoedema, gastrointestinal function, and xerostomia. For neuropathy, depression and anxiety, acupuncture should be used as an option based on individual conditions. Acupuncture is relatively safe without serious adverse events. More well-designed clinical trials of acupuncture are recommended on cancer-related depression and anxiety, arthralgia, xerostomia, gastrointestinal dysfunction and dysphagia.