Acupressure may ease fatigue after breast cancer

The targeted massage therapy known as acupressure may help breast cancer patients overcome fatigue, according to a new study.

Breast cancer survivors using acupressure significantly reduced fatigue compared to women who continued receiving normal care from their doctors, researchers found.

“This is a low-cost, low-risk and easy to use intervention to help with fatigue in many women who are breast cancer survivors,” said lead author Suzanna Zick, of the University of Michigan.

She and her colleagues point out in JAMA Oncology that only limited treatments are available to combat the fatigue that is common among breast cancer survivors.

Acupressure is similar to acupuncture in that it target specific points on the body - but no needles are involved. Instead, pressure is applied to those points with fingers, thumbs or devices.

For the new study, the researchers randomly assigned 288 breast cancer survivors to one of three groups. One group was told to continue their usual care. A second group received acupressure that targets relaxation points. The final group received stimulating acupressure, intended to increase energy.

The women were taught to administer their own acupressure at the beginning of the study. They were instructed to apply pressure in a circular motion for 3 minutes each day, for six weeks.

The women’s acupressure techniques were also evaluated at the start of the study, three weeks later and at the end of the study.

On a scale of one to 10, with higher scores indicating greater fatigue, the women started the study with an average score of about five.

By the end of the six weeks, about 66 percent of women in the relaxing acupressure group and about 61 percent of those in the stimulating group had fatigue scores of less than 4 - in the range considered normal. That was true for only about 31 percent of women in the usual care group.

After another four weeks, 56 percent of the relaxation acupressure group and 61 percent of women in the stimulating group still had normal fatigue scores, compared to about 30 percent in the comparison group.

While neither of the two acupressure techniques outperformed the other in terms of fatigue, the relaxing method improved sleep quality and quality of life more than the stimulating method.

The researchers say their results are consistent with earlier and smaller trials that tested acupressure as a treatment for fatigue.

They caution that about 90 percent of the participants were white. Also, about 12 percent of women stopped acupressure, because they found it too time consuming.

Zick told Reuters Health that two participants experience bruising from the acupressure, and one of those women dropped out of the study.

She said her team hopes to publish a paper looking at how the brain responds to acupressure. They also want to see if applying pressure for only a minute leads to similar - and less time consuming - results.

They are also working on an app that people can use to teach themselves the techniques.

“Hopefully it will be something that’s easily accessible to use in the future,” she said.

SOURCE: JAMA Oncology, online July 7, 2016.